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23 November 2021

As Tory MPs revolt over social care, is Boris Johnson losing his grip?

If 13 more Conservatives had chosen to vote against the bill, the government would have suffered a major defeat on a landmark piece of legislation.

By Ben van der Merwe

The Prime Minister suffered another major rebellion in the House of Commons on 22 November, as 19 Conservative MPs broke ranks to vote against the government’s plans to overhaul funding for social care.

Another 70 Tories abstained. Not all abstentions are a form of rebellion, since MPs may be paired with opposition members who cannot attend, or may be away themselves for legitimate reasons. However, just 13 Conservatives were reportedly paired with Labour MPs. 

Had 13 more Conservatives chosen to vote against the bill, or had an additional 26 chosen to abstain, the government would have suffered a major defeat on a landmark piece of legislation.

The Prime Minister has faced a series of major back-bench rebellions over Covid-19 restrictions since last September. With Labour MPs largely voting in favour of the government’s lockdown policies, however, such revolts have had little chance of success.

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The government has found itself much closer to defeat on matters unrelated to the pandemic. In July, former prime minister Theresa May led a rebellion against the government’s proposed cuts to foreign aid, with the measure eventually passing by just 35 votes.

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The vote on social care is the closest Conservative rebels have got to defeating the government since the battle over an amendment to the Trade Act in January. Then, 34 Tories voted in favour of an opposition amendment that would allow courts to revoke the UK’s trade deals with countries committing genocide. The amendment failed by a margin of just 11 votes.

[See also: Is Boris Johnson losing his way?]

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