Boris Johnson's fightback has been cut short

2 February 2022

9:02 PM

2 February 2022

9:02 PM

Tobias Ellwood, the chair of the defence select committee, has this morning announced that he is sending a letter to the 1922 chairman calling for a no confidence vote in Boris Johnson. In a way this is not a surprise: Johnson cut Ellwood from the government when he became Prime Minister and the two are temperamentally very different. But the worry for No. 10 is that there are rather a lot of former ministers on the backbenches these days, and if a lot of them start writing letters then a no confidence vote will become a near certainty.

Another concern for No. 10 this morning is whether they can live up to the expectations set in terms of the government’s change of direction and personnel. In private meetings, Johnson indicated that he had sympathy with those Tory MPs who wanted April’s National Insurance rise scrapped. But he then reaffirmed it on Sunday, and this has caused significant anger.

At the parliamentary party meeting on Monday night, Johnson talked about the return of Lynton Crosby to cheers. Johnson did not say that he was coming back full-time or anything like that, but those present assumed that Crosby would be taking on a big strategic role. Yet Crosby has told Peter Oborne that he is still in Australia and won’t be back for several weeks.

Then there is the shake up of the No. 10 operation. Johnson’s outriders have implied to MPs that it will be sweeping. But, as Sebastian Payne notes in the FT, Johnson doesn’t yet appear to be committed to that.

Another personnel headache is a potential reshuffle. Some 2019ers have been placated by hints that one is coming soon and their intake will get significant representation in the whips office. But a reshuffle brings with it its own dangers, and does Johnson really want to swell the ranks of former ministers on the backbenches? Though if he isn’t prepared to do that, any shuffle will be a damp squib and show weakness not strength.

This is all a reminder that things get more difficult for Johnson from here.

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