Nowhere to run
What is the point of Boris Johnson? What is he for? That’s the question that a lot of Tory MPs are asking themselves today - as the results in Tiverton & Honiton and Wakefield sink in.
It’s not just that the Conservatives have lost two seats. That happens to governments in by-elections. It is to be expected. It is the emblematic nature of the seats that have been lost that matters. Wakefield is precisely the sort of Northern, ex-Labour, pro-Brexit place that delivered for the Tories their biggest majority in a generation. Tiverton & Honiton is precisely the sort of affluent, rural, well-healed place upon which the Conservatives have long been able to depend; it even returned a Tory in 1997. Both sides of the Tory electoral coalition are crumbling. So, what is the point of Boris Johnson?
Because the point of Boris Johnson used to be that he could hold that coalition together. He could reach into places in the North and the Midlands where other Tories could not. He could make everybody smile and laugh at the village fete in Surrey or Berkshire or some other Home Counties land of manicured lawns. And it worked. He won. But it doesn’t seem to be working anymore. The whole point of this Prime Minister is - now - in question.
So, will those Tory MPs, staring down the barrel of their own potential electoral destruction, get rid of him? Maybe. But also - remarkably - very much maybe not.
It is certainly true that the by-election results will add to the number of MPs who would very much like the Prime Minister to go. But that doesn’t mean that they will necessarily take steps to make that wish come true. Because whilst the point of Boris may be in doubt, what is the point of any of the alternatives? Jeremy Hunt may have fared better in Tiverton & Honiton, but in Wakefield? Liz Truss may connect well with Brexity types in the Midlands, but in Devon? Rishi Sunak may… actually, there’s a question mark over whether Rishi would fare significantly better anywhere on the electoral map.
For as long as his opponents are even more pointless than he, Boris lives to fight another day. But one can’t help but wonder if - faced with yet more squabbling, yet more inquiries, yet more deserts - he might not be wondering what the point of being PM actually is, anymore.