Boris Johnson has a “narrow path” to walk now to avoid being toppled as Tory leader, Paul Montague-Smith writes.
Boris Johnson’s premiership has gone from being on the back foot a month ago to near irrecoverable disarray today.
Bojo no longer has any mojo – with his party or with the public.
While he seems to have made the right strategic call on Omicron, the path for him to be able to successfully navigate his way through the mess he’s in seems very narrow.
The hostility between parts of his backbenches and Number 10 and government whips has become intense. Conservative MPs representing previously ‘Red Wall’ seats literally see the writing on the wall for their political futures.
While Christian Wakeford’s defection to the Labour Party caused others to pause for thought and caused the Tories to temporarily close ranks in a reflex action, relations have broken down. The loyalty that the 2019 intake had to Johnson for the 2019 election result has in many cases evaporated.
Parliamentary politics has always been about persuasion through a combination of argument, incentives and subtle – as well as occasionally not so subtle – ‘threats.’ But when MPs feel they need to resort to taping their conversations with government whips, and when the chair of a select committee advises colleagues to refer possible blackmail to the police, it is clear you have reached a point of chaos.
The problem for Johnson goes wider than trouble with worried new intake with small majorities though. If it was just ‘newbie MPs who don’t understand how Westminster works’ – as some longer serving Tory MPs apparently think of them – then it would be more manageable. However, MPs from across party groupings now see Johnson as a problem rather than an asset.
‘Remoaners’ have of course always been hopeful, even confident, he would fail. But longer serving traditionally loyal MPs are thought to have reached their limit and had enough of the drama and lack of grip that has characterised Johnson’s time in office. David Davis’ recent call for him to go reflects a view that the Prime Minister has failed to show the leadership required in managing ‘partygate.’
Other leading Conservative ‘Brexiteers’ – who you might think would be natural supporters – believe it was they, not Johnson, that won the election by persuading UKIP not to stand against Tory incumbents and are of the libertarian wing of the party who have railed against the Covid restrictions.
A month on, the talk now is more when, rather than if, a leadership election will take place. While before Christmas rebels were not ready to wield their political knives but were checking where they were, more are now sharpening them, waiting for Sue Gray’s report. How many will actually wield them no-one knows. They will be weighing their chances of winning and the implications of falling short.
As Paul Johnson of the ConservativeHome blog has pointed out: “Shoot at the elephant and miss, and it may trample the jungle for a year.” If Johnson wins, which he probably would, only a Cabinet uprising or a change in the rules could lead to his forced departure within the next 12 months.
For now, Labour leader Keir Starmer just needs to sit back and watch the Tories take chunks out of each other. But if Johnson can navigate the increasingly narrow path through the many challenges ahead, Labour’s lead in the polls could prove soft. Much will depend on how Labour both builds and presents its policy platform in the months ahead.
Meanwhile, the prosaic business of government and regulation moves on. The Government has published consultations on the Bank of England’s approach to regulating central counterparties and securities depositories under the future regulatory framework for the finance sector, and on the UK’s implementation of the worldwide 15% minimum corporation tax agreed at the G7.
It has also confirmed it will legislate to regulate the promotion of cryptocurrencies, with the FCA publishing a consultation on its proposals to strengthen its rules. The FCA’s consultation on a new Consumer Duty – which will impact all retail financial services firms – closes in the middle of next month with final rules expected by the end of July. If you would like more information on any of these, get in touch!