Bravado may not be enough to save Teflon Don Boris Johnson this time

How can the Conservative Party reunite when four out of 10 MPs have no faith in their leader?

Prime Minister Boris Johnson may have won the vote of no confidence but his quivering tone suggested a worried outlook. AFP
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Make no mistake, this is a terrible result for Boris Johnson.

Sure, he can claim victory; of course, his sycophantic supporters, many of whom owe their ministerial positions to his patronage, can hail it as a triumph.

The reality, however, is that more than 40 per cent of Tory MPs have no confidence in him as leader. Johnson knows all too well, as the beneficiary of her demise, it is a far worse outcome than that experienced by his predecessor, Theresa May. In her case, 33 per cent voted against her and she was soon gone.

Yes, he will talk a good game, he usually does. No one does boosterism and bravado better than Johnson. It’s words, however; the Johnson balloon is deflating rapidly.

Outwardly, he is a Teflon Don, a king who never appears to be wounded. Arrows appear to bounce off him, nothing cuts through.

Listening to him, though, after the votes were announced, there was a rare, downbeat, quivering tone to his voice, as if he was struggling to believe his own claim of being able to concentrate on “coming together”.

How does that work when four out of every 10 of your Parliamentary colleagues have no faith in you?

If he had a stronger, more independent-minded senior Cabinet team, he would be told it was time to go — which is what happened to Margaret Thatcher.

Others, less thick-skinned, would of course be packing their bags immediately. They would have departed by now

The outlook contains little respite. Next up are two by-elections, one in the ‘Red Wall’ seat of Wakefield, the other in the hitherto impregnable Tory stronghold of Tiverton.

Lose those and the signs are ominous, then Johnson’s star slips still further. After that, the Commons privileges committee begins examining whether he knowingly misled the House over parties in Downing Street during lockdown.

This takes no account either of a worsening economy and cost-of-living crisis, rising NHS waiting lists and increased crime. In theory, another vote can’t be held for 12 months.

But those rules could be changed. At the same time, too, that is a confidence vote held by his own party.

What happens if Labour called its own no-confidence vote in the government? What then? Would those 148 Tories who have given him the thumbs down, side with the opposition?

The vote against him, don’t forget, came after the minimum of organisation. There was some, but not much – this was not a concerted putsch.

Imagine what would have occurred if the rebels had been given more time. They have that ability going forward, to plot and to plan. This was the result, too, without a clear favourite to succeed him. That person may also emerge.

It was a vote about Johnson, his character and his MPs’ faith in him. He won, but bear in mind that 160 to 170 Tory MPs are on the government payroll, their jobs and ministerial salaries are down to him. This makes it even more of a crushing setback.

He knows that. The morning after the EU referendum result in 2016, Johnson emerged from his home to the sound of boos. He was genuinely taken aback, upset, that as the victor he was not greeted by universal cheering.

It was a reaction that went to the heart of Johnson. He is someone who desperately wants to be loved.

The jeers he received during the weekend’s platinum jubilee celebrations will have stung – not least because they were from pro-royal, usually Tory supporters. Now this.

It’s hard to see how even Johnson punches back, how he can command. He is bereft. The question has been answered: it’s not if he stands down but when.

Published: June 07, 2022, 12:36 AM