The libertarian right correctly gauged voters’ mood on Brexit, but rebelling on Covid rules could be politically dangerous
The Conservative government won the Commons vote; but it was so badly wounded by the revolt that it could not continue without change at the top. Boris Johnson will be aware that this is precisely the situation in which his hero, Winston Churchill, waded to power in May 1940. Neville Chamberlain’s government had managed to win a crucial vote on the conduct of the war, but Tory rebellions and abstentions meant a new leader became inevitable. Johnson always craves comparison to Churchill, but the shoes in which he finds himself today are snugly those of Chamberlain.
Britain is not at war in 2021, but it faces a continuing emergency because of Covid. Further restrictions against the Omicron variant may be needed soon as cases continue to multiply, and Johnson has now promised another vote if they are. After Tuesday, when 100 Tories rebelled and at least 16 deliberately abstained, Johnson cannot now win another victory like this week’s without triggering far more acrimony and humiliation for himself and his party. That possibility really could be terminal, especially if the Tories lose the Shropshire North byelection.
Martin Kettle is a Guardian columnist
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