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21 June 2021updated 31 Aug 2021 5:30am

The biggest threat to Boris Johnson is Tory MPs’ shallow loyalty

As soon as Conservatives no longer view the Prime Minister as a winner he will struggle to retain their support.   

By Stephen Bush

Slow train coming? Covid-19 has added at least £1.7bn to the cost of HS2 due to delays and the demands of “Covid-safe” working practices, the FT reveals.  

The headline comes at the worst possible time for the project, which is seen as one of the culprits of the Conservatives’ defeat to the Liberal Democrats in the Chesham and Amersham by-election. This will increase the pressure on HS2: though with so much funding already committed and Boris Johnson’s seemingly endless appetite for an infrastructure project, it is surely safe.  

[see also: Why everyone – and especially Greens – should still support HS2]

Over the past 48 hours, I have heard Conservatives blame the defeat on everything from the Planning Bill to the party’s fondness for culture wars to the abandonment of hawkish rhetoric on the budget deficit and the national debt. 

That, of course, exposes the biggest threat to Boris Johnson: that his relationship with Conservative MPs is transactional. He is there because he is a winner and as long as he looks like winning, his various ideological heresies, his lack of interest in administration and all of the rest of what you might call his “baggage”, is tolerable.  

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But even a small reversal – and, despite last week’s sensational swing, a Liberal Democrat by-election win is, historically speaking, not something for Tory MPs to be overly worried by – causes MPs to panic and to grumble. At the moment, Labour’s plight means that the Conservative family is grumpy, but not panicked: but even a small revival in Labour’s fortunes in the autumn would cause an even greater set of moans and divisions than the Lib Dems’ incredible by-election victory.

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[see also: Can the Liberal Democrats now destroy the Conservatives’ “Blue Wall”?]