World

Boris Johnson can't afford many more weeks like this one

11 September 2020

10:20 PM

11 September 2020

10:20 PM

Boris Johnson will address his MPs tonight – and they are in need of some soothing. This week has strained relations between him and the parliamentary party. As I say in the Times, on Tuesday the government horrified the internationalist wing of the party by declaring that it was prepared to break international law in a ‘specific and limited way’. On Wednesday, it infuriated the libertarian wing by making it illegal, with some exemptions, for more than six people to gather together. There was particular anger about the fact that all this happened without any fresh parliamentary vote or debate.

There’s little overlap between these two factions. But picking a fight with two wings of the parliamentary party at the same time is dangerous for any prime minister.

Public support for tough Covid measures – more than sixty per cent of voters back a 10pm curfew – and Tory voters’ liking of Johnson’s hardball approach to the EU mean it is tempting to dismiss the grumblings of easily displeased MPs. But as Johnson’s fictional predecessor Jim Hacker once observed, the public ‘can’t vote against me till the next election; backbenchers can vote against me at ten o’clock tonight’. Johnson would be well advised to avoid many more weeks where he is taking on two wings of his parliamentary party simultaneously.

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