OPINION - Johnson backs down on Partygate vote delay after Tory revolt

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 (West End Final)
(West End Final)

Is Boris Johnson learning to count or is he simply too weak to lead? This morning, the Prime Minister was negotiating with his backbenchers a delay to the vote on a Commons motion to refer his Partygate comments to the Privileges Committee until after the Met Police had completed its investigation and Sue Gray had published her report.

But then, a few hours later, he abruptly backed down. Tory MPs will now be given a free vote on the motion – although, it may in fact go through ‘on the nod’ i.e. without even a division.

The reason is straightforward: numbers. Lyndon Johnson’s first rule of politics is that its practitioners must be able to count. Even from India, Boris Johnson could see that the momentum was swinging against him. Our Deputy Politics Editor David Bond has a must-read analysis piece on the inside story of why the Government U-turned.

A tactical retreat is of course superior to total annihilation. And the kicking of cans down the road is a tried and tested political tactic. Indeed Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, turned it into a performance art during the Brexit battles.

But it doesn’t make the problem go away. Similarly, the Met’s announcement today that it will not issue any further Partygate fines until after the local elections may provide a short-term boost (everything is relative now) but it only stores up problems for the pretty damn near future.

Steve Baker, a former chair of the ultra-Brexit-supporting European Research Group and deputy chair of the influential Covid Recovery Group, today called on Johnson to resign. Any Tory MP who stands up in the House and tells Prime Minister “the gig’s up” is noteworthy, but it is Baker’s electoral prospects that are most instructive.

Recent polling suggests that if a general election were held today, Baker would lose his High Wycombe seat. This is not to suggest for a moment that MPs never act on principle. But Baker, an experienced rebel ringleader, definitely knows how to count.

Elsewhere in the paper, I cannot get enough of Joe Talora’s deep dives into the issues facing each London borough ahead of May’s local elections. Today you can take your pick: Camden, Croydon, Enfield, Ealing and Barnet.

In the comment pages, Andy Burnham says the ‘Great British Rail Sale‘ is a long-delayed admission from the Government that rail fares in Britain are way too high.

Meanwhile, what is the point of working for a newspaper if you can’t wish your mum a happy birthday? Nick Curtis’s mother, Alison, turns 85 on the same day the Queen turns 96. The piece is as lovely as you’d hope it to be.

Finally, Reveller editor David Ellis does the Guinness Cold Brew Coffee Beer taste test. The brewer says the new beer is “the ideal drink for Guinness fans”. They’re lying, says David. The accompanying video of various Evening Standard staff boldly sipping makes for tremendous content.

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