Opinion: Tory opponents lay down marker in battle to oust Boris

In Boris Johnson’s eyes, Monday's confidence vote brought with it the chance to finally move on from what he called “the media’s favourite obsession”.

Boris Johnson in the House of Commons
Boris Johnson in the House of Commons

And by holding off the leadership challenge by the skin of his teeth, the PM will hope to put Partygate firmly in his rear view mirror and focus on what he has regularly referred to as “getting on with the job”.

Fat chance. Partygate is merely one item on a list of reasons for Tory MPs to be frustrated with the PM’s leadership, that also includes his botched handling of the Owen Paterson scandal.

With this ballot the enemy within has laid down a marker.

As one MP who supports Mr Johnson said to me last night, even in victory his position has been severely weakened.

On one hand the PM cannot face another leadership challenge for 12 months, barring a change in the rules. But that does not mean rebel MPs won’t try to force Mr Johnson’s hand over the coming weeks.

Make no mistake, Mr Johnson will have been rocked by the size of the opposition.

His opponents on his own side of the Commons smell blood.

They know that every misstep will count as a further black mark against him, while also helping to persuade more MPs to jump on the bandwagon opposing his leadership.

The pressure is likely to be ramped up further this month when the Conservatives face the prospect of losing seats in two key by-elections.

Should that happen – as seems likely – then more Tory MPs will start to wonder whether the man who guided them to such a decisive victory in 2019 has now become a liability.

There are still dozens of MPs who are yet to nail their colours to the mast – and it would not take much to sway them either way. The question for many of them remains if not Mr Johnson, then who?

Few in the party believe that Jeremy Hunt – the current favourite to be next PM – can win a general election.

And with Rishi Sunak seemingly out of the way for the time being, none of the other names being floated around Westminster stand out.

And there lies the crux.

Tory MPs know that by getting rid of the PM they will effectively be doing Labour’s bidding.

They also know that in Mr Johnson they have that ultra-rare type of leader with the ability to appeal to a broad spectrum of voters.

The magic may have worn off, but who else can get anywhere near his past success at the ballot box?

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