Boris Johnson supporters swing into action before confidence vote

Campaign to persuade waverers has involved more than 100 Conservative MPs publicly pledge support for Prime Minister, who needs 180 to remain in post

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A Conservative party operation to win over wavering voters in Britain's leadership contest has seen more than half now publicly back Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

With 104 MPs announcing their support mostly via Twitter, Mr Johnson is in need of the another 76 to reach the 180 votes required to survive Monday's confidence vote.

But it has been noted that during the leadership vote for Theresa May in 2018, by early afternoon she had collected enough votes to secure her premiership.

With less than four hours to go before voting starts at 6pm BST (9pm UAE), Mr Johnson’s unofficial campaign team will be concerned that more MPs have not come forward.

However, loyalists have launched a strong campaign stating their arguments to retain him as prime minister.

“I watched how broken our politics became in 2019 and was convinced only he could fix it,” Bournemouth MP Conor Burns tweeted. “Having won the biggest mandate of any Tory Leader since Lady T and got the big calls right, he commands support. The people should be his judge.

Heywood and Middleton MP Chris Clarkson called the vote “absolutely crackers”, put forward by a “a handful of malcontents who haven't provided a coherent alternative plan for the country”.

Brexit minister Jacob Rees-Mogg tweeted that the “time for navel-gazing has ended”.

“The British people gave Boris a mandate, Tory MPs would be wise to accept it,” he added.

But it should be noted that tweeting support or detraction is not the same as voting in the privacy of the committee room, where MPs will start casting their vote on Monday evening.

With hours to go before a confidence vote in the House of Commons on Monday evening, Cabinet members and loyal MPs have been frantically telephoning wavering colleagues.

But the campaign suffered a setback after Jeremy Hunt, the favourite to replace Mr Johnson, announced that he would not be voting for the prime minister.

“Today’s decision is change or lose. I will be voting for change,” he tweeted.

The leadership challenge was triggered after at least 54 letters of no confidence in Mr Johnson were sent to Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee that steers parliamentary Conservative party matters.

MPs have sent letters by hand, email or WhatsApp, after hearing from angry constituents during the week-long jubilee break, dismayed at Downing Street lockdown rule-breaking highlighted in the Sue Gray report published on May 25.

After nearly three years as prime minister, Mr Johnson faces his biggest political crisis yet, relying on Cabinet ministers and a hastily reintroduced unofficial operation to rally MPs behind him.

A leaked memo suggesting “lines to take” for ministers and loyalists told them to threaten a “blue-on-blue civil war” that would be “vicious and tear the party apart” if Mr Johnson lost the vote, triggering an election for a new leader.

Members of the media wait outside of 10 Downing Street on Monday morning. AFP

It urged colleagues to praise the prime minister’s achievements on coronavirus vaccines, Ukraine and employment figures, while arguing that he was the only person who could lead the Conservatives to victory in the next general election.

“It would be extremely harmful to the United Kingdom and the Conservative Party to launch a distracting, divisive and destructive leadership contest,” said the document, which argued there was no alternative to Mr Johnson or his agenda.

It said Mr Johnson was the party's “most proven and thoroughly tested election winner” after he twice won the London mayoralty before winning a general election landslide in 2019.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss was among those first to tweet her support. “The Prime Minister has my 100 per cent backing in today's vote and I strongly encourage colleagues to support him,” she said. “He has apologised for mistakes made.”

She was followed by Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, who in a tweet referring to former Labour-held constituencies, said that Mr Johnson “has delivered victories in seats we have never held before”.

“He has my full confidence,” Mr Wallace said.

Boris Johnson and his wife, Carrie, during a platinum jubilee event for Queen Elizabeth II in London. Photo: AP

MPs from those seats and other marginals will be vital in the voting that lasts until 8pm UK time (11pm UAE) on Monday.

They will be calculating whether Mr Johnson’s election-winning appeal has been shattered by Partygate, or that he may perhaps restore his reputation in time to win an election, probably in 2023.

The problem for Mr Johnson is that the opprobrium has come from all sides of his party, from both right-wing Brexiteers and centrist One Nation Conservatives.

As yet, no single figure has appeared who can unite remain all the Conservative tribes. This may give the prime minister a chance to remain in the post, although Mr Hunt’s tweet may change that.

Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Theresa May were all Conservative prime ministers whose tenure at Downing Street ended with a confidence vote.

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Updated: June 06, 2022, 2:32 PM
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