Boris Johnson continues to survive, for now, as Prime Minister. But if Tory backbenchers want to oust him, they’ll need to get organised, writes Paul Montague-Smith.
Ironically, the Prime Minister’s alienation of a broad spectrum of his backbenchers helped to stay his execution. Those who wanted him gone were unable to organise and plan the timing of their putsch. Had they been able to coordinate the submitting of their letters to the 1922 Committee, triggering a confidence vote after the by-elections on 23 June, the result may well have been different.
The by-election results, particularly the one in Tiverton & Honiton, are a blaring warning siren for Tory MPs. The ‘red wall’ Wakefield seat was a shoo-in for Labour, not least because of the reason for its being held.
Nevertheless, the level of unhappiness with Johnson on the doorstep was crystal clear. Tory MPs in similar northern seats are very anxious and unhappy. Some argue that they delivered Johnson his majority, not the other way around, and there is talk of defections. But the swing of 30% in Devon will have sent a shockwave through Tories across the South and beyond.
Voters appear to be forgiving the LibDems for their part in the 2010 coalition with the Conservatives. There are signs that they are increasingly prepared to vote tactically against Johnson’s government.
The Government is in a bind, with the party split on the way forward. Tory MPs in red wall seats want to see the huge investments promised to ‘level up’ and help secure their political futures.
Others are aghast that the Conservative Party will be presiding over the highest tax burden in over seventy years. They want tax cuts now to help people with the cost of living and get the economy growing more quickly.
According to a recent poll 59% of voters think the PM and Chancellor are heading in the wrong direction – up 20% in just six months. The signs are, though, that the PM and Chancellor are not for turning, for fear of fuelling inflation.
Johnson therefore looks set to be in place for the Conservative party conference in October, which gives him a chance to relaunch and set out his stall to the country. Elections to the backbench 1922 Committee in a couple of weeks might deliver a majority willing to change the rules so another confidence vote can be held within a year of the last.
But even those who are desperate to get rid of the Prime Minister are wary of going down that route. They also need to be certain of winning a second attempt to oust him. At the moment, the only circumstance where that would be pretty much guaranteed would be if the Privileges Committee concluded that Johnson had misled Parliament, but he refused to resign.
If the Government is in a bind, Labour is too and soon may well be more so. Keir Starmer and his team have been sitting on an uncomfortable fence over the rail strikes. Some have ignored an instruction not to go on picket lines in support of workers.
With strikes in other sectors expected, party discipline and Sir Keir’s authority will be tested – if he survives as leader that is. His political future now rests in the hands of Durham Police who, despite what was previously thought, have issued retrospective fines for breaches of coronavirus regulations.
Having promised to do the honourable thing and resign if fined for socialising and drinking beer at a constituency party event, he may not have just shot himself in the foot but blown it right off. The Prime Minister may be left laughing, having avoided a leadership contest himself while the Labour party begins another soul searching, divisive ideological dust-up.
Back in policy land the Treasury Committee has published its report on the Government’s proposed reform of the financial services regulatory landscape post-Brexit. It reaffirms its belief that the regulator must be protected from political interference, that standards shouldn’t be watered down and that there should be a secondary (but certainly not primary) objective on regulators to promote long term economic growth.
It also wants the FCA to avoid getting involved in social policy and consider the impact of regulation on consumers’ access to financial services, which has spooked consumer groups worried about industry lobbying. A new statutory panel to advise on the costs and benefits of new regulations is also suggested, something the industry would no doubt welcome.
When the legislation is presented to Parliament, we’re guaranteed a lively debate on the Government’s proposals and much, much more as amendments on all kinds of issues are promoted.