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World Boris Johnson cements one-party rule in England, but the United Kingdom looks as divided as ever

16:10  07 may  2021
16:10  07 may  2021 Source:   cnn.com

Boris Johnson's secretive funding of his luxury Downing Street flat refurbishment under investigation by the Electoral Commission

  Boris Johnson's secretive funding of his luxury Downing Street flat refurbishment under investigation by the Electoral Commission UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson allegedly hid the fact that Conservative donors had paid for the revamp of his Downing Street flat.Johnson ordered that his 11 Downing Street flat, which he shares with partner Carrie Symonds, should be refurbished, at a total cost of £88,000 after he became prime minister.

The British elections that took place on Thursday were in many ways a symbolic referendum on Boris Johnson. While the results are still coming in, early signs suggest the Prime Minister can chalk this one up as a victory.

Boris Johnson wearing a suit and tie: Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson gestures during a visit to Hartlepool United Football Club as he campaigns on behalf of Conservative Party candidate Jill Mortimer in Hartlepool, north-east England on April 23, 2021, ahead of the 2021 Hartlepool by-election to be held on May 6. (Photo by Ian Forsyth / POOL / AFP) (Photo by IAN FORSYTH/POOL/AFP via Getty Images) © Ian Forsyth/Pool/AFP/Getty Images Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson gestures during a visit to Hartlepool United Football Club as he campaigns on behalf of Conservative Party candidate Jill Mortimer in Hartlepool, north-east England on April 23, 2021, ahead of the 2021 Hartlepool by-election to be held on May 6. (Photo by Ian Forsyth / POOL / AFP) (Photo by IAN FORSYTH/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Final polls going into the numerous local elections suggest that Johnson's Conservatives have held onto mayoralties in key battleground areas and will increase their share of local councils.

Curtains come down on UK PM Boris Johnson over Downing Street redecoration

  Curtains come down on UK PM Boris Johnson over Downing Street redecoration There is growing anger in the U.K. over how Boris Johnson paid for a refurbishment of his Downing Street apartment. Presidents through the years have put their own extravagant twists on the residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, which is estimated to be worth $424 million by real estate company Zillow. But in the U.K., recent refurbishments at the more modest residence for prime ministers at 10 Downing Street have provoked a political firestorm and it is just the latest in a recent spate of controversies that have piled pressure onto Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Most symbolically, Johnson's party took the only UK parliamentary seat up for grabs, in a special election in Hartlepool, which has been held by the Labour party since the northern English seat was created in 1974. It is almost unheard of for a governing party to win a by-election and especially impressive that Johnson managed to do this after his party has been in power since 2010.

Much has happened since Johnson won his landslide majority in the 2019 general election. Back then, the UK was stuck in a Brexit deadlock, with no majority for anything in parliament frustrating a public clearly eager to move on. Much of Johnson's 2019 success has been attributed to the fact he had an "oven-ready" Brexit deal and just needed the votes in parliament to get the job done -- that, and a weak opposition leader in Jeremy Corbyn, an old-fashioned socialist who alienated many voters.

Boris Johnson Risks Probe by U.K. Parliament’s Conduct Watchdog

  Boris Johnson Risks Probe by U.K. Parliament’s Conduct Watchdog The U.K. parliamentary sleaze watchdog may probe whether Prime Minister Boris Johnson broke the code of conduct for Members of Parliament by failing to properly declare how the refurbishment of his government residence was funded. © Bloomberg U.K. PM Boris Johnson To Face PMQs Labour MP Margaret Hodge on Thursday wrote to Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards in the House of Commons Kathryn Stone requesting the investigation, a day after the Electoral Commission announced its own probe into the matter. Johnson has denied wrongdoing.

Shortly after Johnson fulfilled his promise and took the UK out of the EU on January 31, 2020, he was hit with the most severe crisis of this generation: a pandemic that would kill at least 127,000 Britons, one of the highest per capita death rates in the world.

The list of Johnson's Covid-19 mishaps is long. Early in the crisis, he was criticized for going into lockdown too late, not taking the virus seriously enough (famously saying he was still shaking hands with people at the same time Covid-19 was ripping through the country) and dropping the ball on crucial matters like testing and providing protective equipment for medical workers.

His government has been accused of sleaze and cronyism, handing lucrative contracts to people with links to his party. Most recently, Johnson was accused of saying he'd rather "let the bodies pile high in their thousands" than impose another lockdown, a comment he denied making.

UK's Johnson voices optimism over lockdown easing route

  UK's Johnson voices optimism over lockdown easing route LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Monday that there is a “good chance” that social distancing rules in England will be scrapped on June 21 if coronavirus infections and deaths stay low. Johnson told reporters in the north England town of Hartlepool where he is campaigning before a special election on Thursday that the government's lockdown easing plans remains on course as a result of a sharp fall in new coronavirus infections and the rapid rollout of vaccines.

Outside of coronavirus, his Brexit deal has been criticized for being sloppy and poorly implemented, leaving exporters in serious trouble. He is also being formerly investigated by the electoral commission for allegedly letting Conservative donors pay for a very expensive refurbishment of his flat in Downing Street.

And his judgment has come under serious scrutiny following a huge fallout in his inner circle.

How, then, has Johnson so resoundingly won this referendum on his leadership?

The first point to note is that Johnson has been bailed out by his government's vaccine rollout. The UK opted not to join the EU's procurement scheme and, effectively threw as much money as possible to secure the most doses. As a result, the UK is steaming ahead with its vaccination program, a success that Johnson is able to attribute to being outside the EU -- an incorrect but, for many, believable claim.

More importantly, Johnson has managed to shift the center ground in England, a difficult feat in modern politics. People who previously would have never considered voting Conservative now see his party as an entirely different entity to the one led by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, and even more recently by David Cameron and Theresa May.

COVID-19 overshadows independence in key Scottish election

  COVID-19 overshadows independence in key Scottish election EYEMOUTH, Scotland (AP) — James Cook was an enthusiastic supporter of Scottish independence, but now he’s not so sure. As Scotland holds an election Thursday that could be a stepping stone to the breakup of the United Kingdom, the seafood wholesaler has more urgent things on his mind. Britain’s exit from the European Union and the coronavirus pandemic have caused economic upheaval, and he says it’s not the right time to gamble on independence. “A third major event could be cataclysmic for us,” Cook said.The question of independence overshadows the election for the 129-seat Scottish Parliament.

The traditional ideas of left-wing economics and left-wing social policy going hand in hand no longer really exists. Brexit was perhaps the clearest indicator of this, where people in traditional Labour areas voted for a campaign spearheaded by Johnson, the archetypal Conservative.

Through a mixture of populism, willingness to spend state money and performative patriotism, he has found a way to appeal to a particular Englishness that is a million miles from the globalist liberal who was mayor of London not so long ago.

Finally, the UK is very divided, which works in the Prime Minister's favor, at least for now. Johnson and Brexit are on the whole popular in England; the only parts of that country that buck this trend are sufficiently small for him not to need them to win a general election.

The picture is different in the other three countries of the UK where Johnson and the Conservative government have less power and are less attractive to many voters. This is most true in Scotland, where the pro-independence Scottish National Party looks set to extend its dominance.

It's not all good news, though. Sooner rather than later, absolute hell will be unleashed in Scotland as the calls to leave the UK become a roar, but with next to no chance of happening. And political instability between unionists and nationalists in Northern Ireland is raising fresh fears of sectarian violence.

Longer term, there will be a post-mortem of the mishandling of the pandemic. Brexit will inevitably have a more visible impact on the economy. The spats with Europe over the new relationship might reach a tipping point that irritates the public.

And while Johnson appears to have gamed British politics perfectly for now, he's done so by driving a wedge between the four nations and by reaping the benefits of grievance politics. It could keep Johnson and his party in power for another generation, but it could also drive the citizens on the United Kingdom further apart, which could have political, economic and social consequences well into the future.

One day, it's entirely possible Johnson may come to regret unleashing these demons for the sake of victory.

Boris Johnson is using culture wars to cement his grip on power. That's a big risk in angry and divided Britain .
Boris Johnson's having a pretty great spring. The success of the UK Prime Minister's coronavirus rollout coupled with the fast-approaching end of lockdown undoubtedly played a significant role in his Conservative party exceeding expectations at local elections last week. © Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images Boris Johnson drives a Union flag-themed JCB, with the words "Get Brexit Done.

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