OPINION - Boris Johnson makes 11th hour plea to MPs ahead of no-confidence vote

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 (West End Final)
(West End Final)

In professional sport, victory is everything. But for connoisseurs, there is a particular pleasure to be found in a scrappy, ill-begotten, near miscarriage of justice 1-0 win that no 5-0 drubbing can match.

My father, a devoted Arsenal supporter, will occasionally text me “AWIAWIAW” meaning “a win is a win is a win”. Former top-10 tennis player and coach Brad Gilbert went a step further, writing a highly regarded book called Winning Ugly.

Often this maxim works in politics too. Under first past the post, narrow victories are worth as much as large ones. George Howarth MP, with his 39,942 majority in Knowsley, has as many votes in Parliament as Bury North’s James Daley, sitting on a majority of 105.

Should he win tonight’s no-confidence vote, Boris Johnson and his acolytes will make this very case. With 359 Conservative MPs, the Prime Minister needs only to win by 50 per cent plus one, meaning 180 will be sufficient for him to stay on. Indeed, one can imagine Grant Shapps doing the media round tomorrow morning and calmly asserting that a winning margin of two votes would have been frankly wasteful.

Yet when Theresa May won her confidence vote in December 2018, then-backbench critic Jacob Rees-Mogg said that losing the support of around a third of her MPs was a “terrible result for the Prime Minister” and demanded her resignation. Now, Rees-Mogg is leading the ‘one vote is enough’ brigade.

The reality is, of course, that margins and performances matter. No lesser authority than Brian Clough made that case when he famously declared he didn’t want to win the league like Don Revie. He wanted to “win it better”.

Clough was out of Leeds United after 44 days, so Johnson has at least lasted longer than that. But history tells us that even victorious leaders tend to be gone not long after surviving no-confidence votes.

Still, Johnson’s strengths going into this vote are two-fold. First, the theoretical support of the payroll vote – 160 to 170 MPs. And second, the absence of an obvious alternative leader (despite what Jeremy Hunt will have you believe).

As for the Conservatives themselves, will a new leader make a fifth consecutive term more likely? Looking at Johnson’s poll ratings, in a tight election, it could be worth the gamble. But then again, I don’t get the impression the Tories were a John Redwood leadership away from glory in 1997.

Elsewhere in the paper, today’s Tube strike represents quite the hangover after four days of jubilee celebrations. Check out our live blog for the latest news if you’re wondering how to get home or what the disruption is expected to look like into Tuesday morning.

In the comment pages, Tanya Gold calls Johnson’s jubilee boos the sound of a nation that is finished with him. While Peter Knight says it is what it is – he’s about to get hooked on Love Island and there’s nothing to be done about it.

And finally, Londoner’s Diary is back on the town. In today’s instalment, it reveals the Dulwich Picture Gallery has quietly dropped the Sackler name, the Wombles pageant incurs the songwriter’s wrath and Mark Rylance on why he hates playing famous people.

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