This Sunday, in just 12 hours, the mood seemed to change drastically in the camp of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Days earlier, his cabinet ministers had confidently predicted that no motion would take place, even reporting the names of some of the prime minister’s staunchest critics, whom they hoped to win over.
Even on Sunday morning shows, Transport Minister Grant Shapps, who was Johnson’s “numbers man” and who ran sophisticated spreadsheets to track support for his party leadership campaign, said that I did not expect that vote.
But later that night, Treasury Secretary Paul Scully all but admitted it would happen. It took 54 letters of censure to trigger a vote, and the weight of numbers was against the prime minister. In all, 50 Conservative MPs have publicly criticized Johnson’s position without expressly saying that he should stay in the job under the circumstances.
Another 36 had not made a public statement since Sue Gray’s report on the ‘partygate’ scandal, but had previously suggested to their voters that they would make their decision based on her findings.
Graham Brady, the head of the 1922 Committee — which brings together Conservative MPs who don’t have ministries — is not a man who calls the fire department at the first sign of smoke. When he oversaw the internal vote against Theresa May he said the card threshold to trigger it was seeing “traffic in both directions”: people putting up cards and also taking them down.
But Brady called May – and presumably Johnson as well – when he felt the threshold had clearly been crossed, despite the fact that some cards had been withdrawn.
Even if Johnson wins the confidence of lawmakers on Monday night, as he hopes, the tailspin has been extraordinary. Just three and a half years ago the Conservatives forced the last confidence vote against their leader. Since then, Johnson won the ‘tory’ leadership with the overwhelming support of Conservative MPs in Parliament and party members.
A landslide electoral victory followed: an 80-seat majority after a time of deeply unpredictable coalitions and tiny majorities. He pulled the UK out of the European Union, the culmination of a project that had been the feverish wish of many of his supporters.
Yet perhaps only this prime minister could have squandered all of that so quickly: ‘partygate’ encapsulated a feeling of “a norm for them” that has been the constant aura throughout Johnson’s political career. He was arrogant with the truth. He wavered in making difficult decisions. His work at Downing Street was chaotic. His delivery on key promises was poor.
Now her critics range from the more predictable former ousted ministers to the staunch Brexiteers who engineered her predecessor’s ouster; from the “red wallers” of 2019 [en referencia a los tradicionales votantes laboristas que votaron por Johnson en 2019]even the presidents of commissions and the skeptics of confinement due to COVID-19.
The chances of the prime minister convincing most Conservative MPs to keep him remain high. His best chance is to get into campaign mode, where he feels most comfortable, and convince legislators that he is a winner. But the rebels are becoming better organized. This Sunday night an informative document was circulated among the deputies in which the reasons why Johnson is now an electoral ballast were exposed.
The most withering line is that the booing of Johnson during the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations “doesn’t tell us anything that the data doesn’t” and that no social group surveyed says they trust the prime minister.
Another point says that “the whole purpose of the Government now seems to be to keep Boris Johnson as Prime Minister”, pointing to his negative personal assessments and saying that “defending the indefensible” is not protecting the party, but a man.
That will be the question on the minds of most Conservative MPs tonight when they vote.
Translation of Lara Lema