Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. Conservatives
14 December 2021

Boris Johnson suffers bruising rebellion as lockdown scepticism hits the Tory mainstream

The revolt shows that Johnson or any alternative PM will struggle to impose another lockdown and remain in their job.

By Stephen Bush

More than 100 Conservative MPs broke the whip to vote against further coronavirus restrictions, with 98 opposing the measures and at least half a dozen going absent without leave. 

It is a rebellion that tells us two things: the first is that relations between Boris Johnson and the parliamentary party continue to be in the deep freezer, and the second is that opposition to further non-pharmaceutical measures within the Conservative Party is now mainstream.

Rebels came from every intake and from across the party’s traditions. One senior Conservative told me their one hope was that if they could not cap the number of rebels, they could at least cap the type: reduce the dissenters to die-hard opponents of lockdown on the Tory right and irreconcilable opponents of Johnson on the party’s left.  Although both tendencies were well-represented, they were joined by plenty of usually loyal backbenchers in a demonstration of the depth and breadth of anti-lockdown sentiment in the parliamentary party.

Johnson will comfort himself that he did, at least, retain the support of the majority of his backbenchers, but the scale of the rebellion will do nothing to quell the speculation that his leadership has entered its final act. 

More important, given the uncertainty about what the Omicron variant means for healthcare capacity, is what it demonstrates about the Conservative Party’s stomach for more draconian measures, such as lockdown or capacity restraints on business. Whether it is Boris Johnson or his replacement, the ability of a Conservative Prime Minister to impose another lockdown and remain in their job afterwards is now in some doubt.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy


Content from our partners
How to create a responsible form of “buy now, pay later”
“Unions are helping improve conditions for drivers like me”
Transport is the core of levelling up