Tories Show GOP How a Party Should Behave

For once, the political drama took place outside America this week. Britain’s governing Conservative Party defenestrated Prime Minister Boris Johnson (CNN, emphasis added).

Boris Johnson’s turbulent tenure as Britain’s Prime Minister came to an end Thursday after a historic party revolt over a series of ethics scandals forced him to step down.

It took the resignation of nearly 60 members of his government — almost half the payroll — for Johnson to finally abandon his attempts to cling on to power.

For the uninitiated, “payroll” refers to the number of Conservative MPs (a.k.a. Tories) who were in executive branch posts. Whether Britain really needs over 100 legislators doubling as Cabinet ministers or assistants is a discussion for another day. The critical point here is how Johnson was shown the door – by his own party. 

Parliamentary democracies are, by definition, very different from ours. Our Constitution was written during a period when the King of Great Britain and Ireland held genuine and lifelong (albeit somewhat deferred) executive power. Thus, the notion of a President staying in office for only four years at a time was seen as revolutionary.

Since then, Prime Ministers have grown much more powerful (inside and outside the British Commonwealth). This has made replacing the powerful actually easier in many constitutional monarchies than in our 240-year-plus old democracy. One of the “institutional guardrails” they have that we lack is the governing party simply changing leaders to prevent one getting out of line. Or as former Tory leader William Hague once called the party he led: “an absolute monarchy tempered by regicide” (WaPo).

The only avenue we have in the United States to remove a problematic president is impeachment. As it happens, the Republicans had just such an opportunity to police their own as the Tories did. It was two years ago – and they blew it. Yes, I’m talking about Trump’s first impeachment.

In January of 2020, as the Senate was determining Trump’s fate, the General Accounting Office made it perfectly clear. Trump broke the law by freezing military aid to Ukraine.

Imagine how the Senate trial would have played out if Cabinet ministers had responded with the mass of resignations that we saw in Britain. How would Mitch McConnell have reacted to his own wife leaving her post? What would David Perdue have done if his cousin Sonny had resigned? How would Wall Street and the “donor class” have responded to Steve Mnuchin walking away?

We’ll never know, and that’s the difference between the two oldest center-right parties in the Anglosphere. Britain’s Conservatives and America’s Republicans share many faults, but even after their supposedly populist post-Brexit turn, the Tories still police their own. The Republicans didn’t – and even today, they either can’t or won’t.

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