Could Boris Johnson Really Be Forced Out?

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Boris Johnson is under more intense scrutiny than usual at the moment (Photo: Toby Melville via Reuters)
Boris Johnson is under more intense scrutiny than usual at the moment (Photo: Toby Melville via Reuters)

Boris Johnson appears to be grappling with his reputation at the moment following a series of embarrassing, public blunders and a plummeting position in the opinion polls.

As reports of frustration among his backbenchers grows, it remains unclear just how much the prime minister stands to lose after the latest batch of unflattering headlines.

How many backbench Tory MPs actually want Johnson gone?

At least 12 MPs are said to have sent letters of no confidence in Johnson to the backbench Conservative Private Members’ Committee, known as the 1922 Committee.

But it is still a long way off the 54 letters needed to actually trigger a confidence vote in the prime minister.

Notably, Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, had her no confidence vote triggered 18 months after she lost her majority in a snap general election. The current prime minister, on the other hand, still has an overwhelming majority in parliament.

As Westminster editor for the Manchester Evening News Dan O’Donoghue tweeted, there were still “big cheers” for Johnson when he rose to answer questions at Wednesday’s PMQs – suggesting there’s rather a skewed picture when it comes to Johnson’s popularity at the moment.

Deputy prime minister Dominic Raab has also dismissed these reported letters of no confidence as “Westminster tittle tattle”.

But, some Tory MPs have been briefing against the prime minister in the press.

The Sun’s Kate Ferguson reported that one Tory MP has even dismantled Johnson’s election victories as a “bowl of soup could have beaten [Jeremy] Corbyn”.

Johnson’s Tory majority also fell on Monday when 70 backbenchers abstained from voting on the government’s new social care reform bill, meaning it only narrowly passed with a majority of 26 votes.

Some red wall MPs are particularly frustrated with the government after it unveiled its northern rail plans which were hugely watered down from the 2019 promises to ‘level up’ northern England.

Downing Street’s U-turn after whipping backbenchers to vote against Owen Paterson’s suspension definitely hasn’t helped either – it left plenty of Tory backbenchers disillusioned by their own party leader, having been humiliated as Downing Street back-pedalled after they voted in line with the whip.

What do his cabinet ministers think?

Johnson and Sunak are allegedly in the middle of a row  (Photo: Ben Stansall via PA Wire/PA Images)
Johnson and Sunak are allegedly in the middle of a row (Photo: Ben Stansall via PA Wire/PA Images)

There is currently a bitter briefing war going on in Downing Street between the Treasury and No.10.

It came to a head this week when a “senior Downing Street source” told the BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg: “There is a lot of concern inside the building about the PM...It’s just not working. Cabinet needs to wake up and demand serious changes otherwise it’ll keep getting worse. If they don’t insist, he just won’t do anything about it.”

This mole in Downing Street – the so-called “Chatty Pig” – has reportedly only increasing tensions between chancellor Rishi Sunak and Johnson, and Treasury aides now being blamed for the string of negative briefings about the prime minister.

It’s thought these issue stem back to No.10 chief of staff Dan Rosenfield’s interference with the budget and spending review.

Another row then began after the government announced it would be spending £96 billion on the northern rail plans. It was publicly perceived as a flop rather than the largest single rail investment ever made by No.10, and the Treasury allegedly blame Johnson and his staff for mishandling the news.

One of Johnson’s allies has since told The Daily Mail that the leak to Kuenssberg was “self-indulgent” and that the mole should “do something about it or quit” rather than run to the press.

Still, the Treasury remains adamant that it is not responsible for the bad press surrounding Johnson this week.

POLITICO’s Playbook claimed “knives are properly out between No.10 and No.11″ as Johnson faces calls “to rein in the chancellor and his team” while avoiding repeating of Sajid Javid’s resignation from the Treasury last year.

What about the PM’s approval ratings?

YouGov’s surveys have found that the government’s approval ratings have dropped significantly since the Owen Paterson saga.

As of November 22, Downing Street has a 55% disapproval rate among respondents to YouGov’s surveys.

This is the highest disapproval rating since November 2019 when parliament was locked in complicated Brexit negotiations.

However, it’s worth noting that the approval rating was much lower when May stepped down in July 2019 when approximately 70% of respondents disapproved of the then-prime minister.

Is it a blip – or a pattern?

It remains unclear whether this drops in public support is due to a series of unfortunate incidents – the Paterson row, the scandal over MPs and their second jobs along with the U-turns on the northern rail pledges and the social care reforms – or if this is the beginning of something significant.

According to Times Radio’s Matt Chorley, “it’s a mistake to overblow the last few weeks”, which have been “embarrassing, damaging but not fatal”.

Yet, he added: “It is also a mistake of loyalists to think this is all just about Paterson and [that it will] pass.

“Before that there was tax rises, NI protocol, France versus Jersey,Channel crossings, an enemy-creating not problem-solving reshuffle, Afghanistan, supply chain [issues], HGVs....a pattern.”

Johnson’s chaotic speech to the Confederation of British Industry on Monday only furthered reports that he was no longer fit to lead, and left No.10′s spokesperson claiming that the prime minister is “not unwell” and actually still has a grip over government.

The Independent’s Sean O’Grady has even claimed that Johnson will be “gone by Christmas”.

The Labour Party are finally levelling with the Conservatives in the opinion polls, but, with the majority of Tory MPs still backing the prime minister, it remains unclear whether the negative publicity and a row with the Treasury could be enough to kick him out of Downing Street.

This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.

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