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Lodestone Communications

The Prime Minister has an almost eighty seat majority, in theory. In practice… it depends.


This week he discovered that when it comes to helping him wriggle out of his latest catastrophe, his backbenchers are not so much reluctant as missing.


It was a flurry of Tory MPs returning to their constituencies rather than obeying the three line whip that forced the Government to accept an investigation into Johnson’s conduct in the House (essentially, whether he lied to MPs about one or several of the raves he hosted in Downing Street). And that is genuinely an extraordinary thing. Rebelling or refusing to respect a three line whip is the gravest offence against party discipline. It is a rare act in the career of all but the most rebellious of MPs in normal circumstances.  And yet, en masse, Tory MPs signalled that they were going to do it. And so the whips folded. Better to not hold the vote than to lose it. And in doing so, the Government has accepted that the Parliamentary Committee on Standards should investigate the PM. That’s bad news for them and no amount of spin and spluttering should convince you otherwise.


Two questions that you may well feel entitled to ask. One, what happens next? Two, why is he still in office?


What happens next is… not a lot. The Committee is waiting for Sue Gray’s report to be published before drawing any conclusions. Sue Gray is waiting for the Metropolitan Police to finish their investigations before handing over her report. The Metropolitan Police are waiting (utterly bizarrely and for no actual, legal reason) for the local elections before finishing their investigations. So, there will be no bureaucratic conclusion to this farrago any time soon. On and on the machinery grinds, with no output or outcome in sight.


Why is he still in office? Great question! Because despite what many Tory MPs will tell you, they don’t need to wait for Sue Gray or for the Met or for the Committee or for their dad to come home and give them what for (Not that it would do them any harm, anyway). They could get rid of him tomorrow. They could have got rid of him yesterday. He doesn’t have some legal or divine right to be Prime Minister until some designated procedural outcome. So why don’t they? Why do they vote for him to be further probed and tarnished but refuse, still, to finish the job and evict him from his golden wallpapered grace and favour mansion?


They don’t because Britain always has a Prime Minister and the Conservative Party always has a leader. So creating a vacancy means filling that vacancy. And there is no-one, not really, who is a serious and popular enough candidate for the job. Rishi? Too rich, too dry, too immature, too quick to anger. Liz? Too stilted, too many enemies, too little recognition, too unpredictable. And who else? Maybe Ben Wallace. Maybe Penny Mordaunt. Maybe Gove. But in all these cases the ‘maybe’ matters. There is not a critical mass of Wallacites or Mardauntists in the Party. Certainly not enough to create momentum behind a proactive push.


And so we, the people of Britain, have a Prime Minister now almost as loathed by his own party as by his opponents but who remains, for now, wedged into position. Something must break the deadlock eventually. Perhaps it will come quickly. But don’t take Conservative MPs refusal to back their man as a guarantee that they’ll sack him just yet.