On Tuesday, the Prime Minister experienced a backbench rebellion in the House of Commons, when 126 MPs including 101 Tory rebels which equal one-third of the party, voted against further Covid restrictions.

The voters in North Shropshire have sent an undeniable message to Boris Johnson. In the by-election on Thursday, they elected the Liberal Democrats by a 37% swing. North Shropshire has been a Tory safe seat since 1832. The result is a self-inflicted comprehensive defeat for Boris Johnson, first for interfering in the matter of Owen Patterson’s Parliamentary suspension for lobbying, and followed by the revelations of numerous illicit parliamentary parties held during December 2020 whilst the public was in lockdown. In particular, the photographs of Shaun Bailey’s partying at Conservative Headquarters (CCHQ) had a devastating effect on the North Shropshire result. Bailey is the former and failed Conservative London Mayoral Candidate. When photographs emerged of Bailey’s team partying with what looked like organised catered food, Bailey was obliged to resign from the Police and Crime Committee which oversees the work of the Metropolitan Police. The Met are said to be looking into, but not investigating, Christmas 2020 gatherings at No10, the Department of Education, and CCHQ. The Tories selected a perfectly reasonable candidate but who was not local, however in an interview the candidate Neil Shastri-Hurst was unable to say Boris Johnson was a man of “honesty and integrity”; this interview on top of the prevailing angry sentiment gave the LibDems an ideal platform to surge their local candidate Helen Morgan to victory.
There is also the Omicron factor. On Tuesday the Prime Minister experienced a backbench rebellion in the House of Commons, when 126 MPs including 101 Tory rebels which equals one-third of the party, voted against further Covid restrictions. Even the Tories’ latest MP Louis French, of Old Bexley and Sidcup, voted against the government, thus the measures passed with Labour support, not a good situation for any PM. Johnson’s allies casually dismissed the rebellion as overstated, quoting previous rebellions faced by Tony Blair about the Iraq war and Theresa May over the Brexit Bills, seemingly blissfully unaware neither of those worked out well for those respective PMs.
On Wednesday, Johnson gave a press briefing with Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer, doubling down on the threat of Omicron, painting a grim picture of this variant overwhelming society and the NHS. Whitty advised the public that the UK was facing two epidemics on top of each other and to limit social contact, effectively promoting a lockdown by stealth. Many interpreted this punitive broadcast as a message to humiliate Tuesday’s rebels. The shadow lockdown has been seen as the government’s effort to avoid recompensing hospitality industries; Chancellor Rishi Sunak has been called back from California by an incandescent business and hospitality community supported by MPs; restaurants and bars typically make up to 30% of their annual income in the run-up to Christmas.
With inflation at +5% and interest rates raised to 0.25%, all in all, a very embarrassing and damaging week for the government, the annoyed mood is nationwide; during the North Shropshire by-election campaigning MPs were receiving strong criticism on doorsteps. This is a slippery slope for Boris Johnson and the Conservatives, the public would not be obediently locking themselves down if it wasn’t for Christmas, nobody wants to risk infecting their family and friends during the holiday. The seasonal timing and the apocalyptic broadcast by W.H.O.’s David Nabarro that followed, has made the government’s doom forecast and guidance successful, despite the overall public sentiment to tough Omicron out. In a first, the Conservative backbench group The 1922 Committee have announced that letters of no-confidence can be received by email rather than be delivered in person, this is another blow to the Government who no doubt hoped backbenchers would calm down over the three week Christmas recess.
Amongst folks who have experienced dealings with CCHQ and the team at No10, there is a consensus the teams are too immature, inexperienced and incompetent to manage the current plethora of crises; and the Prime Minister has been complacent with his majority. Allegations of a young chumocracy replacing a meritocracy have resonated, and the “do as I say not as I do” mindset in the administration has weakened its credibility.
However the PM has been compared to the proverbial cat with nine lives, at the moment most agree Johnson is on his eighth life. The dichotomy for Johnson is between centralisation and delegation; the PM, the Chancellor and the ubiquitous Michael Gove are centralising control, this means individual Secretaries of State’s remit is largely in name only. Time will tell how Johnson can redeem himself; in the meantime the leadership hopefuls the A team of Liz Truss, Rishi Sunak, and B team of Sajid Javid, Jeremy Hunt wait in the wings. The danger zone for the Conservatives is the other school of thought that claims after all the exoticness of Johnson the UK would benefit from a more boring personality, in a general election it is not difficult to imagine the LibDems teaming up with the Labour party as both leaders are considered dreary by comparison.