Boris Johnson has just suffered a large majority-busting revolt in the House of Commons over vaccine passports, with 98 Conservatives rebelling against the government. The measure passed with Labour support, and 369 voted in favour with 126 against. Before the debate, some 86 Tories had said they would vote against. There had been concerted attempts by the whips to drive down those numbers. Johnson himself had been on the phone to individuals identified as possibly wavering.
That this many Conservative MPs voted against the government not long after a personal address by Boris Johnson to an emergency meeting of the 1922 Committee shows how deep the feeling runs in the party on this. The debate, as it wore on, did too. There were backbenchers who you might once have considered automatic loyalists and keen to support the government who spoke and then voted against, such as Alicia Kearns. There was a great deal of anger from usually quite sanguine MPs such as Steve Brine about the way in which Johnson in particular had sought to ‘frighten’ their constituents with his Sunday night broadcast to the nation.
This was quite obviously not a rebellion just from the usual suspects of the Covid Recovery Group and malcontents. To underline that, one of the Tories who voted no tonight has only been an MP for a matter of days: Louie French, who won the Old Bexley and Sidcup by-election.
Perhaps if you were measuring things merely by avoiding junior ministerial resignations, then you could call this a success. The whips had been busy working on ten parliamentary private secretaries who were on ‘resignation watch’ over the measure. None of them appears to have voted against the government tonight. Indeed, those named in this piece all voted in favour.
What does this tell us about Boris Johnson’s relationship with his party? It tells us that things really are very serious indeed, far more so than the prime minister appears to think. His MPs do not take him at his word any more. They think he is happy to frighten voters, rather than charm them. And they don’t care about damaging his authority. Indeed, many of them seem to think that it’s rather important to do so.
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