The last week has shown that Boris Johnson’s majority of 80 isn’t as big as it first appeared, I say in The Times this morning. Despite Boris Johnson throwing his full political weight behind Dominic Cummings, forty plus Tories still called for the PM’s senior adviser to go.
The problem for No 10 is that a majority of 80 ain’t what it used to be. It is, roughly, equivalent to a majority of 20-odd a generation ago, which is what John Major had in 1992. That the Tory majority is smaller than it first appeared has profound implications for how Boris Johnson governs. Every policy will now need to be tested against whether it can get through the House or not. Indeed, one of the reasons that the government is changing tack on Huawei is because it doesn’t have the votes for its previous position.
There are more potential rebellions brewing. The proposed quarantine policy is increasingly unpopular on the Tory benches. One senior Tory backbencher tells me, ‘If the opposition came out on it, the government would have no choice but to retreat’ before the vote at the end of next month.
Boris Johnson needs to find ways to rally his parliamentary party to him. A healthy working relationship between No 10, the cabinet and the parliamentary party is not just something that’s nice to have: it is vital – not just for Boris Johnson’s legislative agenda but his premiership too. One secretary of state warns: ‘The PM has to have a clear line to the party. Every PM forgets that lesson at some point. From Thatcher on, when they lose that link, that’s the end.’
With MPs away from Westminster because of the lockdown, it has been far harder for Number 10 and the whips to foster a sense of party unity. But when parliament returns next week, Boris Johnson is going to have to spend far more time on party management than he anticipated. But as one supportive senior backbencher says, ‘There isn’t a choice to be made here for the PM. It is a necessity.’