Johnson’s authority is bruised, and in the eyes of those 148 Conservative MPs – over 40 per cent of the parliamentary party – who voted against him, his legitimacy is diminished. The fact that a sizeable minority – a tally far higher than nearly everyone expected – of his own party have formally expressed their lack of confidence in the Prime Minister shows that he is no longer able to maintain party unity; and that that many of his own MPs have grave reservations about his ability to lead them into the next election. Rather than being an electoral asset, the Prime Minister is increasingly and rapidly becoming electoral liability.
The outcome of the vote also shows that many MPs are thoroughly unhappy about the direction (or lack of) taken by the Government with Johnson at the helm, which is currently grappling with a cost of living crisis and the ongoing fallout from Brexit. Finally, the vote underscores the depths of despair felt by a great many Conservative MPs, who are tired of defending the Prime Minister in light of the ‘partygate’ scandal, which laid bare the culture of rule-breaking at the very heart of government when the rest of the country were being asked to ‘stay at home to save lives’.
The scale of this vote will also encourage potential contenders to make public their own leadership aspirations, setting the stage for further ‘blue-on-blue’ skirmishes of the sort already witnessed on Monday. And whilst the Conservative Party’s current rules protect the leader from a further challenge for the next 12 months, rules can change if the situation demands it.
It is hard to see how the Prime Minister will recover from this; and even though he will likely try to cling on, the Conservative Party’s history suggests that this is the beginning of the end of Johnson’s time in Number 10. Indeed with only 59 per cent of MPs actively endorsing the PM – far lower than the 63 per cent that Theresa May received when facing a similar vote in 2018 – that timescale is likely to be accelerated.