The Guardian’s take on Boris Johnson: hanging by a thread | Editorial
FThe Conservatives initially opposed the motion. Then they followed him. Then they tried to modify it. Then they withdrew their own amendment. In the end, and after a procedurally chaotic day at Westminster, Tory MPs remained silent and approved the opposition motion. The official outcome is that the privileges committee will examine whether Boris Johnson misled Parliament over the Downing Street lockdown parties. The informal result is that Mr Johnson has once again lost control of his party and perhaps this time too lost his confidence.
Amid the confusion of the previous 48 hours, three things stand out. First, Mr Johnson is now further than ever from getting rid of partygate. Second, the so-called upgraded Downing Street machine is another write-off. And third, Labor leader Keir Starmer, who gave one of his best speeches on Thursday, scored a significant victory. For the Tories, on the other hand, the success of the Labor motion provided an abject climax to an abject day.
It was a day that laid bare the true depth of Tory divisions over Mr Johnson’s leadership. This revealed the party’s continued vulnerability as long as it remains leader. This further damaged the reputation of an already damaged parliament. Worse still, from the perspective of Mr Johnson’s narrow self-interest, it made things even worse politically than they already were. Politically, it is a form of living death.
Damning speeches from his own side by MPs such as Steve Baker and William Wragg were significant evidence of the Tories’ increasingly desperate mood. But so was the extraordinary emptiness of the Tory benches, with hardly anyone speaking for their damaged leader and few party MPs even bothering to attend. The Conservative party that once turned to him in 2019 is now plagued by discontent with their leader. As long as it remains, there will be even more.
Mr Johnson has never had the support in the first place of the relatively few remaining Liberal Tories. Many in the parliamentary ranks also have deep apprehensions. Significantly, the Prime Minister is now also being let down by some on the right, like Mr Baker, who had backed him until now. Although he is in India on Thursday, continuing to act as if the row at home is a sideshow, Mr Johnson will know his position is eroding, the bell is ringing louder and Mr Starmer is stalking him without remorse .
The day had started with the Tory hierarchy focused on passing a delaying amendment to Labor’s motion deferring Mr Johnson’s statements in the House of Commons on lockdown parties to the privileges committee. Labour’s motion was worded in moderate terms and reached out to the Prime Minister’s Tory critics by promising to delay the dismissal until after police investigations are completed. Late Wednesday, the government tabled an amendment to further extend the deadline. Thursday morning, it was clear that several dozen Conservative MPs would not vote for it and that there would be a free vote on the Conservative side. As with the Owen Paterson affair, Mr Johnson unerringly led his party through the quagmire.
Public outrage over its lockdown parties, along with the inexorably worsening cost-of-living crisis, means there is no magic bullet for conservatives. UK voters now think the government is handling nearly every issue poorly – by more than three to one in the case of inflation, taxation, immigration, housing and the NHS. Only 20% think Mr Johnson understands the impact of the rising cost of living on ordinary people. They are the figures of a broken leader and a wounded party. Mr Johnson’s job as Prime Minister is hanging by a thread again.