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2 February 2022

Will Boris Johnson soon face a confidence vote after all?

Tory MPs may decide that they can’t continue to look this ridiculous and that the whole sorry affair needs to be brought to an end.

By Stephen Bush

A trickle that becomes a flood? Peter Aldous, the Conservative MP for Waveney and one of the most consistently loyal backbenchers in the parliamentary party (there is no major issue on which he has split with any of the three prime ministers he has served) is the latest MP to announce publicly that he has written a letter to Graham Brady calling for a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister. And this morning Tobias Ellwood, the chair of the defence select committee, told Sky News that he will be submitting his letter in short order. 

Every one of these letters gets us closer to the magic 15 per cent (that’s 54 Conservative MPs as it stands), and of course, most MPs won’t announce their intentions as Aldous has. It all feels very similar to Theresa May’s position in November 2018: she had survived the initial organised attempt to trigger a vote of no confidence, but in December enough letters had trickled in to trigger a vote on her leadership.  

The emergence of more claims about Downing Street parties today – the Telegraph and the Guardian both report that Johnson attended two further parties, which included a “Prosecco-fuelled” leaving do for a Downing Street official and take the number of gatherings the Prime Minister allegedly attended to six – adds to the feeling that sooner or later, enough bad news stories will ensure that the 54-letter threshold is met.  

Now, the argument that Johnson loyalists make at this point is: given that most Conservative MPs are at best agnostic about the available candidates to replace the Prime Minister, Johnson would survive any confidence vote. That’s certainly possible, but it could also go the other way, with Conservative MPs deciding that they can’t continue to look ridiculous and that the whole sorry affair needs to be brought to an end.  

Boris Johnson’s big hope is that ambitious plans to “level up” the United Kingdom and to offer rebates on energy bills (to be clawed back by the energy companies from bill-payers in later years) will change the mood music around the government. And, again, it’s possible – but if in a month’s time the government is still on the back foot and the polls still look awful, the Prime Minister’s position could worsen, suddenly and drastically. 

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