Boris Johnson's replacement must have integrity. We cannot have another political fly-boy – Christine Jardine MP

Unprecedented. It is a word that has been used a lot recently about our politics, but is the only one which comes close to capturing the scale and significance of events which have played out over the past week.

Each morning seemed to bring news of fresh chaos in a government which had waited far too long to rid itself of the malign influence at its heart.

A steady stream of senior figures finally recognising that they had been loyal to a leader vastly unfit for the role, and responding to the calls for his removal that opposition MPs like myself had been making for months.

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Resignation after resignation. Extraordinary development after extraordinary development.

A Prime Minister first desperately clinging onto power, then trying to simply squat in residence in Downing Street, apparently to avoid disrupting his belated wedding party. Boris Johnson and his parties. We might have thought he would have learned.

But then we are talking about a man who seemed to think that rules, regulations, standards of common decency simply did not apply to him.

He was wrong. And the situation in which the country now finds itself should be a salutary lesson to us all: beware of politicians bulging with charisma and promising the Earth.

Political fly boys (or girls) with a snappy line in rhetoric, oodles of charm and a shortage of that other important word. Integrity.

Despite his buffoonish guise, Boris Johnson knew exactly what he was doing with his stunts, big promises, and overtly populist policies (Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA)Despite his buffoonish guise, Boris Johnson knew exactly what he was doing with his stunts, big promises, and overtly populist policies (Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Despite his buffoonish guise, Boris Johnson knew exactly what he was doing with his stunts, big promises, and overtly populist policies (Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA)

As with anything else in life, if a politician seems too good to be true, they most probably are.

Not long after Boris became Prime Minister, I warned in this publication that we shouldn’t be taken in by the mask of innocent buffoonery.

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That this was a man who knew exactly what he was doing with his stunts, his big promises, and his overtly populist policies.

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That image, his charisma, is now the explanation, or should that be excuse, being bandied about for how Boris Johnson was able to hold his party in thrall for so long.

But it really does not lessen the blame for those senior Conservatives who seemed oblivious to his bad behaviour, broken promises and betrayal of the people who had voted for them.

The damage that has been done to the country and the challenges that we face as a result should, by now, be the remit of a new, caretaker Prime Minister.

That we did not already have an interim PM in place by Friday, that the work had not begun to undo that damage is yet another failure.

I appreciate – how could I not – that we have had a pandemic, a war in Ukraine that has stoked energy prices and that both were outwith the control of Boris Johnson’s government.

But it has been the management of those events which has been woeful, particularly in comparison to many of our fellow G20 countries whose recovery outstrips ours. The unwillingness to react to the pressure being heaped on ordinary families and pensioners up and down the country which has been unforgivable. And the sleaze, cronyism and air of entitlement surrounding Johnson’s premiership which so many of us found disgusting.

The Conservative Party now has to find a new leader who they hope can convince the British public that Boris was an aberration.

That will not be easy. Too many were complicit in his abuse of position and indulged him in the deception of both public and parliament.

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The new broom has to sweep very clean. Be very different. And do it quickly.

In Scotland, it is not just Conservatives who are hoping that the newcomer will have an appreciation of what we need to preserve that cherished relationship with the rest of the United Kingdom.

Because if there is one person, other than Boris himself, who regrets his demise it must surely be our own First Minister.

Nicola Sturgeon will no longer be able to hide her own failings behind the diversionary smokescreen of Boris’ bad behaviour.

NHS waiting lists, record drug deaths, struggling public services and those ferries can no longer be camouflaged as some sort of unavoidable consequence of the fight to remove Boris.

He has gone, or soon will be, taking much of the SNP’s planned grievance strategy with him.

Now they will have only their own record with which to persuade the people of Scotland, the majority of whom did not vote SNP, that they have the keys to some mythical magical future.

Then of course they have their own experience of a political fly-boy bulging with charisma and promises that can’t be fulfilled.

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Internal problems and questions over the behaviour and management of their own elected representatives are also issues they should address.

Perhaps nationalists and the Brexiteer wing of the Conservative party have more in common than either would care to admit?

What the country needs now, and voters are making it clear at every possible opportunity, is a fresh start and new approach.

They want something done to support those families and pensioners struggling to make ends meet or being dragged into debt as they cope with soaring energy bills and prices.

They expect both the UK Government and the nationalists at Holyrood to put that before all else. For too long, both have been obsessed with separation from the EU or UK.

It is still unclear how long it will be before we know whether it will be Tugendhat, Mordaunt, Truss or somebody else who will collect the metaphorical keys to Downing Street. If, that is, there does not have to be a general election to force the current Trump-like incumbent out.

However they make their decision and however quickly they manage it, there is one thing above all else I would urge of the Conservative party as they asses the candidates.

Ignore the charisma. Search for integrity.

Christine Jardine is the Scottish Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West



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