After a grim week of further damaging revelations for Boris Johnson, including the Prime Minister’s direct confirmation that he attended a party in the gardens of 10 Downing Street during lockdown in May 2020, the clamour for his shaggy head on a plate will not be silenced.
Although the next major hurdles for the Conservatives are the May local elections, when the impact of the latest revelations of parties at Downing Street is expected to be highly damaging, some Conservative MPs are now going public to call for his resignation right now. Under party rules, a vote of no confidence takes place if 15% or more of the 360 Tory MPs make a formal written request to Sir Graham Brady, Chair of the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers. So 54 disaffected MPs are needed to prompt the vote, with Johnson then needing support from at least 180 of his colleagues to stay in his job.
Of course, it is also possible that Boris Johnson may tender his resignation, perhaps disappearing to the backbenches whilst writing his memoirs. So far, there is little sign that Johnson will choose this path voluntarily. However, the influence of Sir Graham Brady and other senior Tories could push him towards resignation, as was the case with Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May.
But actually, Johnson at the moment appears to be trying to weather the storm. His partial apology in Parliament earlier this week may mollify some of his critics, and he may be hopeful (but far from certain) that the official report into government parties during lockdown – expected to be completed shortly by senior civil servant Sue Gray – will not trigger further adverse publicity or even a police investigation.
Boris Johnson is a true one-off and his mistakes and duplicity have been forgotten or forgiven by his fellow Tory MPs many times, particularly after leading his party to spectacular effect during the General Election in 2019 when the Conservatives made a net gain of 48 seats. But patience is running exceedingly thin now.
The recent sleaze debacle with Tory MP Owen Paterson, continuing concern about the slow easing of restrictions and the damaging revelations that parties were being hosted at Downing Street (including two on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral) are all conspiring to turn public opinion against the Conservatives and Tory MPs, together with their grassroots supporters, are all too aware that the next General Election is only two years away.
A YouGov poll, carried out for The Times prior to Johnson’s apology in Parliament this week, gave the Labour party a 10 point lead over the Tories, the biggest lead that Sir Keir Starmer’s party has enjoyed for almost ten years. How much of this swing in public opinion is due to Starmer’s improving performance as leader of the opposition, or to the continuing bungles of the Conservative government is not known but the poll must certainly be providing ammunition to Johnson’s detractors within the Conservative party.
That said, online bookmakers remain pretty positive about Johnson’s prospects with Sporting Index offering odds of 1/2 that Johnson will exit the top job this year. With only five Tory MPs currently publicly calling for his resignation, the public support of his Cabinet and, most importantly, no organised effort to unite disaffected MPs against him, Johnson may limp along as Prime Minister for the remainder of this year but it is increasingly difficult to see him in post leading his party into the next General Election in 2024.