Express & Star

Toby Neal: A reminder that Boris Johnson doesn't play by normal rules

Golly gosh, what a lot of fuss.


Another trademark Boris triumph. Onwards and upwards.

The vote of confidence result this week is tangible evidence of his rising standing among his worst enemies – Tory MPs. Bear with me on that...

You may have thought that the decent, honourable, and right thing for a Prime Minister to do after such a vote would be to say: "Right, I get the message. I announce my resignation to spend more time with my family and in redecorating my flat."

But that's not Boris. What you have to remember is that he is not a Westminster man, and he has no tribe among the Parliamentary Conservative Party. So he can say: Stuff Westminster, I'm staying.

His fate rides now on the views of ordinary voters, who have two years to wait before they can give their general election verdict.

The fact that a significant number of Tory MPs hate him is not news and has always been par for the rocky course in the rises and pratfalls in his political career.

Even in the last Parliament some were saying they would not serve under him in any circumstances.

He's not a normal politician who plays by the normal political rules. He's more a sort of stuntman who has somehow wandered into the political arena looking for new audiences.

Rather than erratic, high spending, high taxing, pseudo Commie Boris, with his sinister sidekick Rishi Sunak who is on a mission to bankrupt Britain, the person the Parliamentary Conservative Party would really like to lead them would be a person of integrity, honesty, intelligence, somebody who they can rely on to uphold traditional Tory values.

Yes, they want someone like Sir Keir Starmer, who is sadly unavailable for the job.

There have been a lot of rather dodgy comparisons this week between Boris' confidence vote and past confidence votes and leadership elections, with the equally dodgy conclusion that those who were the subject of them all soon lost office, meaning the clock is ticking on Boris.

That's like a weather forecaster predicting rain, but not saying when it will come. No politician in the world stays in office.

Nevertheless, while I am loath to make predictions myself (particularly about the future), I will stick my neck out and predict that Boris Johnson will lead the Tories into the next general election.

I think I'm safe in doing that because it's still a couple of years away and if I'm proven wrong you'll have forgotten my prediction, but if I'm right I will of course crow "See, I told you so."

No, not Theresa May, nor John Major – the better comparison for Boris Johnson's plight is Jeremy Corbyn.

In 2016 Labour MPs held a no confidence vote in Jezza's leadership. The result was 172 to 40. Now you may not believe this, but that was not in his favour. In other words, fewer than 20 per cent of Labour MPs had any confidence in him as leader.

Mr Corbyn's place as leader was cemented by rank and file members of the Labour Party who loved him. It's the same for Boris, whose support base is not in Westminster, but out in the field, among ordinary folk, who voted for him in large numbers at the last general election and, with the soothing cream of victory, Tory MPs buried their misgivings.

I'm not sure if Sir Keir voted for Jezza, but as he had resigned and called for a change of leadership it hardly seems likely, and yet he still agreed afterwards to serve under Mr Corbyn as Shadow Minister for Killing Brexit.

Some might say that his highlighting that many Tory MPs have no confidence in their leader might be a tad hypocritical given his own track record, but banish such thoughts as we all know that Sir Keir is a modern saint who is incapable of such hypocrisy.

In the 2019 Tory leadership contest only 160 Tory MPs voted for Boris in the final ballot. That was 160 out of, at the time, 313. So 153 Tory MPs didn't vote for him. In this week's vote he was supported by 211 Tory MPs, while 148 didn't.

You see? In comparison with 2019, the proportion of Tory MPs opposing him has fallen from nearly 50 per cent to 40 per cent.

From Boris' viewpoint, he's making progress.