If you think you have that first-day-back-at-work feeling, imagine being the Prime Minister. The chairman of the 1922 Committee, Graham Brady, has just announced that there will be a vote of no confidence in Boris Johnson this evening.
It’s hard to imagine a more disparate weekend for the country’s two figureheads. While the head of state bathed in four days of celebrations, well wishes and marmalade sandwiches, the head of government was met with jeers and booing as he attended the Platinum Jubilee on 3 June. After a week of intense speculation about the future of his premiership and the loyalty of his colleagues, Johnson may have hoped that the weekend’s festivities would unite the country and draw attention away from his partygate indiscretions. Instead, they further underlined his unpopularity – an observation that will be fresh in the minds of Conservative MPs as they reunite in Westminster this week.
Though it’s not uncommon for a politician to be heckled at a public event, the significance of the type of crowd that booed Johnson has not escaped political commentators. As one Labour source told the Guardian: “I don’t know if a Tory PM has ever been booed by a crowd of dedicated royalists before, but it feels a lot like he’s lost the dressing room.”
Johnson’s most loyal supporters are still publicly defending him. His Biggest Fan, the Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries, tweeted that there were “far more cheers” than boos (as if the incident hadn’t been broadcast live to every household in the country), while the Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, warned us not to “over-interpret” the crowd’s discontent, whatever that means.
If the events at the jubilee weren’t bad enough for the PM, the Sunday Times reported that recent polling has given Labour a 20-point lead in the Red Wall seat of Wakefield, where there is a by-election on 23 June. This level of disapproval is sure to spook his more hesitant colleagues: they will see this indication of public anger as evidence that many voters aren’t ready to move on from partygate, as Johnson has so often claimed.
There had been whispers in Westminster for days that the threshold for no-confidence letters had been met. Tim Shipman wrote in the Sunday Times that one source thought up to 67 letters had been received by Brady, with only 54 needed to trigger a secret ballot. This morning’s announcement, along with the polls and the booing, should make Johnson very nervous about a successful Tory mutiny.
What can we expect this evening? The vote will take place between 6pm and 8pm, which gives rebels just a few hours of face-to-face lobbying time in parliament. This may stand in Johnson’s favour. He will presumably make phone calls with promises and threats, if he hasn’t started already. 180 colleagues (50 per cent plus one) would need to vote against Johnson to oust him, a threshold that rebels, in their current state, are unlikely to clear. However, it’s worth noting that because the vote is anonymous, it is difficult to predict how even the most loyal of Johnson’s supporters may vote. Public support and private support are two very different things.
This piece first appeared in the Morning Call newsletter; subscribe here.
[See also: Jeremy Hunt: “Conservatives must not alienate suburban voters”]