After a frenetic fortnight for Boris Johnson, his short paternity leave will provide him time for brief reflection. He may consider the words of fellow Balliol College alumnus, Aldous Huxley, who wrote ‘…nothing changes and yet everything is completely different.’
A year ago the Conservatives and Labour were neck and neck in the polls, the country was faced with rocketing levels of Covid, the Prime Minister was introducing restrictions on the British people that his party felt deeply uncomfortable with and the internal workings of Downing Street and its advisers were generating acres of newspaper coverage.
And so here we are again, yet the difference now is marked.
Why? Plummeting confidence.
The Prime Minister’s Trump card was that he was a winner. Even his fiercest internal critics had to acknowledge the potency of the PM’s political elixir and he gave them a good dose time and again to bring them all into line.
But Conservative MPs are increasingly coming to conclude that the latest wave of stories, particularly those with a whiff of sleaze about them, are cutting through – getting a grip just isn’t something Johnson has the ability to do and he’s become a liability.
It comes to something when the barbs from the stars of prime-time light entertainment are landing heavy blows. We’re into John Major style satirical territory now.
When they smell blood the Tories will be brutal and talk in Westminster turns to the letters of no confidence that the chairman of the Tory backbench 1922 committee has piling up on his desk. 15% of MPs need to send their anonymous missives and a vote is triggered.
As one MP noted ‘Are there more than 50 Tory backbenchers who have submitted a letter of no confidence in the prime minister? No. Are there more than 50 who think he is doing the job extremely badly? Undoubtedly yes.’
The redoubtable Daily Telegraph man, Christopher Hope, scoops the news that Johnson’s plan is to beef up Downing Street and my former colleague, David Canzini, is the man tipped to provide the main course. If anyone could turn round the fortunes of the Prime Minister, then David would be it.
But if the Government loses the Shropshire North by-election on Thursday, and the MPs go back to their constituencies for Christmas recess and spend time with their heavily disgruntled local members, then everything really could all change.