British Prime Minister Boris Johnson survived a cliffhanger vote of no confidence by his fellow Conservative Party lawmakers Monday evening, prevailing despite deep disgust over lockdown-breaking parties at Downing Street and broad discontent with his leadership, which one former ally branded a “charade.”
Johnson won the party-only secret balloting by 211 to 148 — surpassing the simple majority of 180 votes he needed to remain in office. Though he held on to his job, the vote was remarkably close for a prime minister who helped the Conservatives win a landslide election in 2019.
His salvation may have been the lack of an obvious successor within the party.
Johnson had framed the vote as “a golden chance” to “end the media’s favorite obsession” with the boozy pandemic gatherings at his offices. And when the result was tallied, he told broadcasters it was “convincing” and “decisive” and allowed the Tories to “move on” and “focus on the stuff that I think really matters to people.”
But there remains an active open rebellion within his party, with many top voices now on-the-record saying this prime minister is unfit to serve. Fellow Conservative Party lawmakers have questioned his truthfulness and complained that his administration is reactive and adrift.
How Johnson proceeds with his domestic and foreign agenda is unclear. He is a wounded leader. He and the Conservatives will struggle to rebuild their brand in the face of soaring inflation and diminished public trust. And allies in Europe and the United States are now on notice that his authority has been undercut by his own doing.
Surviving a no-confidence vote under the current rules insulates Johnson from additional party challenges for a year. But those rules can be changed.
Looming over Monday’s vote was the recollection that Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, beat a no-confidence challenge over her failed Brexit deal in 2018, only to be forced to resign the next year. When May faced her vote, 37 percent of her lawmakers voted against her; Johnson did worse, with 41 percent of his lawmakers voting against him.
In opinion surveys, Johnson’s polling numbers are in the dumpster after months of drip-drip revelations about how he allowed his staff to turn his office and residence of 10 Downing Street into an ersatz frat house during the darkest days of the pandemic — with “BYOB” party invites, karaoke singing, fisticuffs and vomiting.