Boris Johnson
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street for Parliament in London, Britain, on July 6, 2022. Johnson will announce his resignation on July 7, 2022, a government source said, after he was abandoned by ministers and his Conservative Party's lawmakers who said he was no longer fit to govern. Image Credit: Bloomberg

How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb? One — but the light bulb must really want to change.

And how many Conservative MPs does it take to change their leader? Any number — but the prime minister must really want to change …

That seems to be the lesson from the mini-constitutional crisis that has engulfed the British Government for much of Wednesday and Thursday — and will likely continue until Boris Johnson does step aside as soon as his party selects a successor in the coming weeks.

If Johnson had his way, he’d stay. Or if Johnson couldn’t have it that way, he’d stay until the party conference in September. But his party have conferred in backrooms and dark corners and they want him out now

Sky News ran wall-to-wall coverage of the political soapbox throughout Wednesday, including a scoresheet in the top right corner of the screen keeping a tally of resignations. As Johnson entered Parliament for the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions, it stood at four. By the time he left the House of Commons, excoriated by his own MPs, chastened by the Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, and belittled by the Scottish National Party leader Ian Blackford — a man who is normally heckled to hell by Conservatives, given a quiet ride this time — the ticker stood at 11.

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What transpired, however, is that before Johnson even went into the chamber for an unprecedented mauling, he had already been doorstepped by Michael Gove, the minister responsible for levelling up and a fixer for the Tories who would slide lower than a snake’s belly to do Johnson’s bidding, telling the prime minister that he ought to think about resigning.

At 3pm, Johnson has a preset appointment with the Liaison Committee for Parliament, a cross-party group that oversees things like transport, housing, education and, yes, integrity.

Johnson rocked backwards and forwards in a green and chrome leather office chair, batting aside questions about Ukrainian grain supplies, road take, electric cars, school closures and the like.

That ticker was climbing with each passing minute. At 32 when he started to speak. At 40 when he finished, leaving the committee room to head back to 10 Downing Street where a motley selection of his ministers were waiting.

Still he refused to go, making it clear in no uncertain terms that he had a mandate from the British people — almost 14 million of them — to do the things he was elected to do. And no, he wouldn’t be resigning. And, what’s more, he was firing Michael Gove for being a snake in suggesting early in the day that he should resign.

Never before in modern British politics has such a charade unfolded. And never before has there been such a notion that a prime minister would refuse to quit.

I can’t help thinking that the events of July 6, 2022, parody the events of January 6 2021 in Washington, where a leader of a democratic nation refused to face the inevitable shift in his political fortunes.

How will, in time, constitutional experts refer to this day in British history.

Those constitutional experts were left pondering what indeed would happen should Johnson simply refuse to leave office. Could he call Queen Elizabeth and ask for Parliament to be dissolved and a new general election called. His gambit, in refusing to leave office, is that he believes the Conservatives face the prospect of losing an election without him. For their part, the Conservatives gambit is that they face the prospect of losing an election if he stays.

In theory, under the unwritten British Constitution — a gathering of precedents over history — there had never been a precedent such as this.

Yes, the Queen has the powers to dissolve Parliament, and she also has the right to say no if she is advised that another in the Commons would have the ability to form a government. At 96 years of age and in a year of Platinum Jubilee celebrations, should the monarch really have to keep the Commons and the Conservatives in place like a schoolteacher wielding a ruler over an unruly classroom?

Such is the political quagmire in the UK right now that it is a partial relief Thursday morning that Johnson has indicated that he will resign but wants to stay on till the Conservative party conference in September.

No, the Conservatives say, he must go now. Right now and not a moment too soon.

But what of that claim that he has a mandate from those almost 14 million Brits.

Like much of what has passed from his lips these past 35 months, it has more than a Pinocchian element.

Boris Johnson protest
Demonstrators protest against British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in London on July 6, 2022. After days of battling for his job, Johnson had been deserted by all but a handful of allies after the latest in a series of scandals broke their willingness to support him. Image Credit: Reuters

The reality is that British politics is a party-based system. Its first-past-the-post system ensures that party candidates in each constituency are elected under their own names and party label. And the party with the most seats gets to form the government. It is not the case that 14 million voted for Johnson and Johnson alone. It is not a presidential system — as much as Johnson has tried to make it about he alone — it is a party system.

And the party had enough of Johnson on Wednesday. More than enough on Thursday. And there was a palpable sigh of relief when he finally appeared outside 10 Downing Street and called it quits.

The events of these past few days have forever changed Britain. Political parties — and the Conservatives in particular — will be wary of allowing the cult of personality to take over their organisation. Heck, isn’t that a lesson that the Republicans in the US might learn too one day?

The next occupant of 10 Downing Street will need to make sure that all wings of the party are held in check. The issue with Johnson is that he held a broad — but shallow — base of support. Actually, wasn’t Johnson himself shallow, believing in his own cult and support from the masses across Britain?

No, whoever occupies Downing Street now and in the future will need to be a party man first. And hang his wallpaper with drawing pins.