Jul 8, 2022 - Podcasts

The U.K.'s big test

Prime Minister Boris Johnson resigned Thursday morning, after dozens of his cabinet members quit. It’s an unusually turbulent political crisis for the UK that follows allegations of sexual misconduct within Johnson’s own party and a series of mishaps that have left many within his own party without confidence in his leadership. Axios' Dave Lawler says this moment represents a test for UK institutions.

  • Plus: voters are looking for unity as American divides deepen.
  • And: a historic day at Wimbledon.

Guests: Axios' Dave Lawler and Margaret Talev.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Lydia McMullen-Laird, Alex Sugiura, and Ben O'Brien. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today! It’s Friday, July 8th. I’m Niala Boodhoo. Here’s what you need to know today: voters are looking for unity as American divides deepen. Plus, a historic Wimbledon final. But first, the UK faces a major test…that’s today’s One Big Thing.

NIALA: It's been a crazy 48 hours across the Atlantic. Prime Minister Boris Johnson resigned Thursday morning after dozens of his cabinet members quit. It's an unusually turbulent political crisis for the UK that follows allegations of sexual misconduct within Johnson's own party and a series of mishaps that have left many within the conservative party without confidence in his leadership. Axios world editor Dave Lawler is here with what comes next. Hey Dave.


NIALA: Let's start with how we got here. Johnson came to power after Brexit, but is it fair to say his handling of the pandemic is really what was the beginning of the end for him?

DAVE: So, yeah, Johnson has basically been a walking scandal throughout his political career, but as you mentioned, he came to power after Brexit. He won a huge, uh, landslide election in 2019. He did come under a lot of scrutiny for his handling of the pandemic. That was sort of the first phase of this downfall of Johnson. And of course that was when he hosted these parties in Downing Street during lockdown, and so that was the major scandal that really started this downward slide, both for Johnson's popularity with the public, but also the confidence of members of his own party in Johnson. And that's ultimately what took him down. It was his own party turning on him this week, and forcing him out.

NIALA: So Boris Johnson yesterday announced his resignation, but he hasn't left yet. Is he circumventing the usual process of how this should work when a prime minister resigns?

DAVE: So by hanging on as long as he did until most of his government had resigned, Johnson put himself in the country in a really unusual position. Because now he's in office as kind of a caretaker prime minister, but he had to cobble together a new government that will serve for a short period of time until the conservative party can pick its next leader. But he's indicated he thinks that that should be until potentially early October when the next conservative party conference comes together. That's a pretty long time in some really difficult circumstances in terms of inflation, in terms of the war in Ukraine, to have kind of this lame duck prime minister, who in many people's eyes has lost his legitimacy and certainly has lost the backing of members of his own party. But certainly this was a test of the UK's institutions.

NIALA: Dave, does this transfer of power have any effect on the war in Ukraine or our relationship with the British?

DAVE: So, the Russians would certainly like you to think so. The Kremlin has done kind of a victory lap saying that, Johnson tried to talk tough to Russia and now look what happened to him. And Ukrainian President Zelensky had a call with Johnson yesterday in which he said, you know, “You're a hero. We all love you.” You’ll remember these images of Johnson walking through the streets of Kiev and being applauded. But we should expect the next British Prime Minister to take up that line. Everybody who is seriously in the running is quite a supporter of the Ukrainian cause and of NATO. In terms of relations with the US, Johnson could be a difficult partner with whom to deal at times he was seen as a bit erratic. But again, we're gonna get a lot of the same policies from the next Prime Minister as we got from Johnson. So, the kind of personality of British leadership might change, but the policies underlying that and the relationship with the US should broadly be pretty similar.

NIALA: Axios world editor Dave Lawler. Thanks Dave.

DAVE: Thanks Niala.

NIALA: In a moment we’re back with how the Supreme Court has further deepened divides in America.

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today. I'm Niala Boodhoo. Polls show political divisions in America are getting worse in the wake of major Supreme Court decisions, rising gun violence and conflicts over the 2020 election. But across party lines, voters are worried about a decline in democracy and a rise in voter apathy. Axios, managing editor for politics Margaret Talev joins us to talk about this for our Friday politics Roundup. Hi Margaret!

MARGARET: Hey Niala.

NIALA: So Margaret, we have new polling about political divisions in America. Can you tell us about what we've learned especially just even over the past few weeks?

MARGARET TALEV: Niala, we have a project with our friends at Ipsos called the “Two Americas Index” and it measures how divided Americans are, what they feel they have in common with other people. In our May survey, we actually saw an opening, that suggested that since late last year, the Russian invasion of Ukraine had created a moment where Americans were feeling more optimistic about having more in common with each other because they had a common enemy. That's over. Since the Roe decision, our latest numbers from Ipsos, which we’re reporting today, show that those divisions greatly increased over the course of just the last month, especially among Democrats and among independents. They show that Democrats, 85% of Democrats say they have nothing in common with people from the other party. And, independents went from like about half of independents to almost two-thirds saying they really don't have anything in common with people from either the democratic or the republican party. When you look at the timing of this, this change has taken place since the Supreme Court overturned Roe V. Wade. And the question is, is this the new normal, or is this a temporary change and Americans will just go back to being kind of divided.

NIALA: What do we know about how people feel about major party leadership in the democratic and republican party right now?

MARGARET: If you look at the two leaders as Joe Biden and Donald Trump, they don't feel good about either one of them. Something like, 7 in 10 Americans say that Joe Biden shouldn't run again and 6 in 10 say that Donald Trump shouldn't run. This is a Harvard-Harris poll that came out recently. And, it's a little bit different party by party. There are more democrats proportionally who don't wanna see Biden run again, than there are republicans who don't wanna see Trump again. But when you look at America as a whole, most Americans don't want either one of them to continue to lead the country or their respective parties.

NIALA: So given this division, there is a growing movement to counter voter apathy, including with a nonpartisan group that's organizing dinners for friends to get together and pledge to protect democracy. Margaret first, when we say voter apathy, what exactly are we meaning people don't wanna vote?

MARGARET: People aren't feeling apathetic about issues. We know people are deeply concerned about inflation, they're deeply concerned about, abortion rights or gun safety issues. The question is, especially in a midterm year, will they vote or do they just feel so depressed about whatever their beef is about whether America's divided or about these issues, that they're just not gonna bother going to the polls. And that's the kind of apathy that these groups are trying to counter. There are many of these groups that have sprung up in recent years, they all do something a little bit different. Some aim purposefully to get people of different parties together to debate, some were aimed at civility, others are aimed at bipartisanship. This group that you mentioned is called, democracy, dinners.org. It launched over the July 4th weekend and the idea is not to get people together, to vote for a specific person, but to get people together, to talk about what democracy means, why it's worth protecting and how you can use your vote to do that.

NIALA: What does the data show about if that makes a difference when people are literally just sitting down and speaking to each other?

MARGARET: Well, it's really hard to say because It's not like any sizeable percentage of Americans is deeply engaged in efforts like this. But the idea is that for the people who really are concerned that American democracy could be on the brink, not to feel helpless, that there is something that can be done, that people can be organized to reach out at the local level, to get to know the people who live next door to them, the people they work with, people they might not agree with and say, “we may not agree on everything, but we can agree on the need to vote and the need to get along.”

NIALA: Margaret Talev is Axios’ managing editor for politics. Thanks, Margaret.

MARGARET: Thanks Niala.

NIALA: One last British headline for you. Ons Jabeur [jah-BURR] has become the first Arab woman to make it to the Wimbledon finals – and the first African woman to do so in the modern era of professional tennis - which she hopes is an inspiration - she told the BBC after her semifinal win.

ONS JABEUR: I'm a proud Tunisian woman standing here today…I know in Tunisia, they're going crazy right now. I just try to inspire, really, as much as I can. I want to see more and more -- not just Tunisian -- Arab, African players on tour. The final match will be on Saturday.

And that’s it for us this week. Axios Today is produced by Nuria Marquez Martinez and Lydia McMullen-Laird. Our sound engineers are Alex Sugiura and Ben O’Brien. Alexandra Botti is our Supervising Producer. Sara Kehaulani Goo is Axios’ Editor In Chief - and special thanks as always to Axios Co-Founder Mike Allen. I’m Niala Boodhoo. Have a great weekend – I’ll see you Monday.

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