By Paul Whiteley
The verdict is in. Boris Johnson retains the confidence of the Conservative Party. For now. Johnson received the votes of 211 out of 359 Tory MPs in support of his leadership, which means that technically he won. But the fact that 148 of his parliamentary colleagues voted against him, more than 41% of the parliamentary party, throws his longevity as party leader – and prime minister – into considerable doubt.
Johnson actually performed worse than John Major and Theresa May in their leadership challenges in 1995 and 2019. And he faced as much opposition as Margaret Thatcher did in the first round of her leadership contest in 1990.
The history of such confidence votes in Conservative leaders tells us that they almost always end up damaging both the leader and the party even when they support the incumbent. We have seen this happening on three successive occasions over the past 32 years.
When senior cabinet minister Michael Heseltine challenged Thatcher’s leadership in the first round of the contest in 1990 he took 40.9% of the vote. This meant that under the rules operating at the time, the contest had to go to a second round because she did not achieve the 55% required for an outright victory. Initially she said she would fight on but subsequently the “men in grey suits” persuaded her to stand down, and the resulting contest was won by John Major.
In retrospect, Conservative MPs were right to replace her, since Major then went on to win a surprise victory in the 1992 general election. But subsequently he too was increasingly dogged by the divisions in the party over UK membership of the European Union. Major was a firm supporter of Britain’s membership of the European Union – but an increasing number of Tory backbenchers, as well as party members in the country, wanted to leave the EU.
Major decided to make his critics “put up or shut up” by calling for a confidence vote in himself in 1995. He won that vote by a large margin, supported by 71% of his parliamentary colleagues – but unfortunately for him, this did not settle the issue. If anything, it revealed to the voters that the Conservative Party was bitterly divided. Two years later under the leadership of Tony Blair, Labour won a landslide victory in the election which brought an end to Major’s premiership.
The third occasion was the confidence vote imposed by May in the spring of 2019 following her failure to win a parliamentary majority in the general election of 2017. She did better than expected by winning the backing of 63% of her MPs, but unfortunately for her it did not solve the problem of finding a solution to Brexit acceptable to the House of Commons. Despite the victory, within six months she had to resign and Johnson won the subsequent leadership election.
Two years of turmoil
These examples show that a confidence vote itself inevitably weakens rather than strengthens the position of the leader and this erodes support for the party among the voters. Two by-elections are shortly to take place in Wakefield and in Honiton and Tiverton – both seats won by the Conservatives in the last election. Recent polling suggests that Wakefield is almost certain to be captured by Labour and, in light of the Liberal Democrat success in the by-elections in North Shropshire and Chesham and Amersham in 2021, the party has a very good chance of taking this seat from the Conservatives.
This does not of course mean that Johnson will resign. Former Brexit Secretary David Davis, himself a former Conservative leadership candidate, said the prime minister will have to be “dragged kicking and screaming” from Downing Street. If this is indeed the case, it means that, unless his colleagues can remove him from office, the row over partygate will continue and the ability of the government to persuade people to support it to deal with the cost of living crisis and other major issues will be further eroded.
In dealing with this issue, Conservative MPs might do well to remember the advice given by Machiavelli in The Prince – his manual for how to govern states:
Whoever is responsible for another’s becoming powerful ruins himself, because this power is brought into being either by ingenuity or by force, and both of these are suspect to the one who has become powerful.
A significantly weakened prime minister and a rebellious parliamentary party is no great foundation for achieving a fifth election victory in 2024.
Paul Whiteley is Professor in the Department of Government at the University of Essex, England.
The Conversation arose out of deep-seated concerns for the fading quality of our public discourse and recognition of the vital role that academic experts could play in the public arena. Information has always been essential to democracy. It’s a societal good, like clean water. But many now find it difficult to put their trust in the media and experts who have spent years researching a topic. Instead, they listen to those who have the loudest voices. Those uninformed views are amplified by social media networks that reward those who spark outrage instead of insight or thoughtful discussion. The Conversation seeks to be part of the solution to this problem, to raise up the voices of true experts and to make their knowledge available to everyone. The Conversation publishes nightly at 9 p.m. on FlaglerLive.
Dennis C Rathsam says
The British people have got it right. Thier not happy with Boris, he goes! To bad here in the USA, we cant do that. Here we are stuck with a baffoon with a worse aproval rating on his job performance, of any other president in history! Failed policy,$5.oo gas,inflation, illegals flooding the boarder & no formula for our babies. Pray for America, this is a very sad day for all of us!
@dr. . . Yet again, you’ve missed the whole point of the cartoon . . . the trump copycat, Boris, is portrayed as the clown he is. His complete hypocrisy of partying during pandemic lock downs got him called on the carpet even by his own “conservative” party.
Yet again. . . you also got the “FACTS” wrong:
1. Boris is still Prime Minister
2. The worst US President in US history, trump. . . who attempted a coup. . . WAS “IMPEACHED” TWICE!!!! But, the completely corrupt Republicans in the Senate will “do literally anything” to hold onto power, and so they refuse to actually kick him out of office. Even Nixon was honorable enough to resign.
3. trump’s polling numbers (39.1%) were lower than President Biden’s (41.3%) during the same “fifth quarter” period. . . although trump did not have a horrific Russian war in Europe to deal with, on top of a pandemic that has killed over ONE MILLION Americans:
Gary R says
Poll numbers fluctuate so there have been times where Biden polling numbers have been lower than Trumps. Trump was acquitted twice which means not guilty. Do you not know what acquitted means?
Joe Biden after 10 months: Worst president ever. https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/joe-biden-after-10-months-worst-president-ever/ar-AAPBJTS
ln many ways Joe Biden is simply the worst president to date. Joe Scarborough, liberal MSNBC host sums it up by saying. “Democrats can’t protect us across the world. Democrats can’t protect our streets, and Democrats can’t protect us at the border.”
And he is destroying our democracy.
It wasn’t the “worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War.” Nor did it veer anywhere near the vicinity of being as dangerous as 9/11. Nor was it a “coup” or an “insurrection” — not in any way we commonly understand those words. It wasn’t a “putsch.” Nor did it, as the chairman of the Jan. 6 committee, Rep. Bennie Thompson, claimed, come “dangerously close to succeeding” in upending “American democracy.” That’s all a myth. It was a riot.
Even the FBI said it wasn’t an insurrection.
@gr. . . Pathetic attempt at “Cherry Picking” there. . . especially when it comes to words from Joe Scarborough. . . GEEZ! I could posts pages of quotes from him that say just the opposite!
Whether “last year” the FBI called the “violent” attempted coup/overthrow of our federal government during the horrific riot at our nation’s capitol an insurrection or not. . . by “definition” it most certainly was because the “CRIME” of seditious conspiracy has now been proven and several people have now been found guilty:
WASHINGTON, May 4 (Reuters) – A member of the far-right Oath Keepers militia on Wednesday admitted to engaging in seditious conspiracy during last year’s attack on the U.S. Capitol, the latest in a string of courtroom victories for the Justice Department.
William Todd Wilson of North Carolina pleaded guilty during a federal court hearing in Washington. He was the third Oath Keepers defendant to plead guilty to seditious conspiracy and obstruction charges.
Several other defendants are still on track for a trial later this year, including Stewart Rhodes, the founder of the Oath Keepers.
An indictment against Rhodes and others unsealed in January is the criminal case accusing participants in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack of engaging in seditious conspiracy, defined as attempting “to overthrow, put down or to destroy by force the government of the United States.”
Again. . . really pathetic!
@gr. . . The insurrection and attempted coup by trump is actually being proven in testimony during the Jan. 6th Hearings aired on all the major news networks from 8-10 last night. Of course NOT FOX, though! Did you even try to seek facts and the actual truth of what happened that day by watching that “Bipartisan” presentation? If not, “you” have absolutely NOTHING credible to say on the subject! There are more hearings next week. . . maybe you can catch up.
@gr. . . by the way, I followed the link you posted which actually originated with some right winged know nothing called Dan Cummings. It says so much about your level of intelligence when you post opinions from someone who writes BS like this:
The Woke Ten Commandments:
1. I am god and can choose my own moral standards.
2. I can make anything I choose the priority in my life.
3. I will use God’s name only when it is followed by the word “damn.”
4. I don’t need a special day to to rest and reflect on God.
5. I don’t need to respect and honor my parents.
6. I will not murder unless it is the unborn child in the mother’s womb.
7. I will pursue any sexual desire that I have.
8. I will not steal anything over $950.
9. I will not lie unless it is for personal or political gain.
10. It is not right for anyone to be rich and have more than I have.