Boris Johnson believes he has been safe in office for at least a year: this is clear from his last-minute decision on Friday (June 17) to get rid of the Conservative MPs, whose constant support he needs to survive, and go to Kyiv to see his “friend”, the Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky.
MPs expected Johnson to appear Friday at a conference hosted by the party’s Northern Study Group and campaign in Wakefield. Instead, the prime minister was aiming to grab international headlines on the day the European Commission announced Ukraine’s EU candidate status.
After surviving a vote of confidence and promising to unite wavering MPs, Johnson, like a formidable but absent father, seeks to show strength by reverting to ignoring his supporters.
Those who oppose him, who never formed a coherent opposition, have retreated and are now regrouping. They agree that Johnson is safe for the summer, and one thoughtful MP suggested to me this week that “surviving him for another year should be your baseline.”
Rebel attention is focused on the potential findings of the Privilege Committee – due to a report on Johnson’s behavior in Parliament regarding party gates in September – and on the momentum that could build against Johnson at the Tory conference in October.
This is the next window of pressure that Johnson is likely to face. This could be the point at which the 1922 Committee decides to change the rules that currently prevent another vote of no confidence in Johnson this year. How New statesman informedit is not difficult to change these rules in any practical sense – it could happen any day – but it remains an open question how strong opposition to Johnson must be now for this to happen in 1922.
The bar for another vote of confidence has certainly been raised. Only 15% of Tory MPs should have called for it before. But it is now thought that at least 50 percent should want a rule change considered (41 percent voted against Johnson on June 6). And some MPs believe that the level of opposition required for another vote is now much higher.
“The pressure must be enormous,” says one of them. “Things were about to get really, really bad. In 2019, we had some pretty bad locals and ministerial resignations all over the place for a few weeks.” They point out that it wasn’t until after the European elections – when the Tories hit single digits – that 1922 turned against Theresa May.
Another MP, a rebel, agrees that it is believed that more than 50% of the parliamentary party would have to oppose Johnson for the rule change to occur – possibly up to 60% or 65% – although they believe it could happen quickly.” if the Privilege Committee discovers something that will significantly change the course of the game.”
But others are less convinced that Johnson is safe until, say, two-thirds of his MPs oppose him. They think the local Tory party associations hold the key to the next vote of confidence. Once party chairmen and activists start demanding Johnson’s removal, which they believe is already happening, MPs will once again feel the need to act.
The problem with the Tory party, as one veteran MP put it this week, is that both sides have been cheered up by a vote of confidence. “These are really bad numbers. [for us]they tell me, because both the government and the rebels now think that “they have a chance to find a winning hand.” Neither side appreciates or fears labor under Keir Starmer. And contenders for the leadership of both the “ten” and the conservatives believe that they have enough time to turn the party before the next election.
Both Johnson and John Major, according to one MP, have shown that it is possible to reinvent a party in government and that, if done right, it is possible to win the next election. As another MP put it, “we still have years after next local residents of the year – it could be 18 months before the election [then]”.
There is still time to overthrow Johnson. But one rebel, nonetheless, was sad about what could happen this month. “I wonder what would happen if 20 of us got together and said: “Let’s postpone our letters until the by-election.” This was discussed, but we decided it was best to leave. [last week]”. Two weeks, they say, is a long time from a political point of view. Anything could happen. A second MP agrees: “The lesson the rebels have learned from January/February,” they say, “is that if you think you have momentum, you should leave. Momentum is the most important quality in politics.”