What now for Boris? Potential landmines for PM after confidence vote

What now for Boris? Two by-elections, ANOTHER Partygate probe, double-digit inflation, and nine days abroad while rebel MPs plot… the potential landmines for the PM after he scraped through Tory confidence vote

  • Boris Johnson has survived the Tory confidence vote despite facing major revolt
  • The PM seems to have won himself some breathing space until the Autumn 
  • But there are a series of problems looming that could threaten his survival  

Boris Johnson is trying to move on from the Tory confidence vote today despite four in 10 MPs calling for him to quit.

But the PM is far from out of danger, with a series of hazards to navigate against the backdrop of an increasingly mutinous parliamentary party.

There are fears that the Conservatives are on track for disaster in looming by-elections in the Red Wall seat of Wakefield and the traditional blue heartland of Tiverton.

That could trigger another bout of plotting, especially as Mr Johnson is due to go on a nine-day foreign tour around the same time, leaving events to unfold in Westminster.   

Meanwhile, the cost-of-living crisis shows no sign of abating with the economy stalling and inflation predicted to reach double digits by the end of the year.

Despite his efforts to shift the dial, Partygate is also set to return as the powerful Privileges Committee investigates whether he deliberately misled the House of Commons.

Boris Johnson (pictured yesterday) is trying to move on from the Tory confidence vote despite four in 10 MPs calling for him to quit

Boris Johnson (pictured yesterday) is trying to move on from the Tory confidence vote despite four in 10 MPs calling for him to quit

The Tories have rules for how the leader can be ousted and replaced - although rebels point out they can always be changed

The Tories have rules for how the leader can be ousted and replaced – although rebels point out they can always be changed 

Has the PM seen off the threat of a confidence vote?

Tory rules state that a leader who wins a confidence vote cannot face another one for a year.

As Mr Johnson was the victor by 211 to 148 last night, in theory he should be immune until at least next June.

However, Theresa May also saw off a confidence vote in 2018, by a bigger margin, as she wrestled with Brexit.

That did not prevent her being forced to resign six months later, as when it became clear she would lose the 1922 executive merely threatened to change the rules to allow another vote. 

Tory rebels are already talking up the prospect of doing the same thing to Mr Johnson should his situation deteriorate further.

So what could spark another crisis?

The most immediate landmines in the premier’s path are the by-elections on June 23. 

In Wakefield, where the previous Tory MP Ahmad Khan was convicted of sexual assault, polls suggest Labour have a 20-point lead.

A thumping defeat in one of the Red Wall constituencies that delivered Mr Johnson’s historic 2019 landslide would be bad enough by itself.

But fears are also mounting that Tiverton & Honiton, in the Devon Tory heartlands, could also be lost. 

Neil Parish was forced to quit as the local MP after admitting watching porn in the Commons chamber. And the Lib Dems have been pouring resources into the area as part of their attack on the so-called ‘Blue Wall’.

Losing both could fuel rising panic that Mr Johnson’s ‘big tent’ encompassing the Red Wall and traditional heartlands might collapse at the next general election, and sending the Tories spiralling out of power.

The PM will be on the scene to front that up, right?

No. Mr Johnson is due to be out of the country on back-to-back visits when the by-elections take place, and is not expected to return until a week later.

This has caused some consternation at Westminster as although in theory the PM remains in charge while abroad it is notoriously a time when plotting can happen in their absence. 

Would there be another confidence vote if the by-elections are lost?

The backbench 1922 Committee reflects the will of MPs – but it is also there to protect the interests of the party.

The executive would be deeply reluctant to cause a situation where an endless stream of confidence votes can be held. That would make the job of a PM practically impossible and reinforce the public perception of disunity in the ranks.

Unless it is overwhelmingly clear that Mr Johnson would lose it is unlikely that the 1922 would facilitate another ballot happening barely a fortnight after the last.

So the premier has time for things to improve?

Barring bombshell resignations from Cabinet, the rebellion might well be entering a slower-burn phase.

But that does not mean the prognosis for Mr Johnson has necessarily improved a great deal.

The Bank of England expects the cost-of-living crisis to peak at the end of the year, with inflation reaching double-digits and the economy grinding to a halt.

The political heat is likely to be turned up as Britons feel the squeeze.

At least Partygate is in the rear view mirror though?

Well… not quite. The police and Sue Gray have completed their investigations, but Mr Johnson does still face an inquiry by the cross-party Privileges Committee.

That is due to report on whether he deliberately misled Parliament in the Autumn. Although the committee does have an in-built Tory majority there is still a risk that it will end up being critical.

That could end up being a flashpoint for a another coup attempt.  

Polls suggest Labour have a 20-point lead in Wakefield ahead of the June 23 by-election

Polls suggest Labour have a 20-point lead in Wakefield ahead of the June 23 by-election 

Can Mr Johnson do anything to get back on track? 

The PM seems well aware that he has limited time to get the show back on the road.

He has ordered Cabinet to accelerate public service reforms and come up with plans to save money. A Thatcherite Right-to-Buy extension is due to be unveiled soon, and Mr Johnson and Rishi Sunak could jointly unveil more cost-of-living support.

The premier has also again hinted at more tax cuts – which would be music to the ears of many traditional Tory MPs alarmed that the burden is rising to record levels.

A positive shift in national polls and the passage of time from Partygate could also help restore some of his standing. 

And there are continuing rumblings about a Cabinet reshuffle, although Mr Johnson might not have enough political leverage to make major changes.   

But the Tories’ Autumn conference is likely to be a critical moment, when the party takes stock again and decides whether it wants Mr Johnson to lead them into the next general election – or they want to try someone else.   


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