2022 – No wonder Tory MPs fear the outcome of the upcoming by-election | Katie Bowles

WWhen the Sue Gray report was first published, Boris Johnson’s supporters took solace in the fact that it received little immediate reaction from within the Conservative Party. While it was for the somber reading, it was the feeling that there was no new smoke gun or advertisement that would drive Conservative MPs to overstate. The main response was silence, not Johnson’s new calls to leave.

But in the days that followed, a general malaise took hold. A steady stream of letters of no-confidence was sent, and nine other MPs opposed Johnson. This brings the total number of MPs who have questioned his position as party leader to 34. Given that it takes 54 characters for a vote of confidence, one vote of confidence is now likely.

A senior government adviser believes the party will falter in a vote soon, perhaps a week from today, when MPs return from their half-term break. “As far as I know, there was no coordination,” says one of the MPs who had already submitted the letter of no-confidence, citing the unpredictability of the process.

If Johnson goes to the vote, the feeling among his supporters is that he will win it. But these voices reveal weakness, not strength, and the problem for the Prime Minister is that it is not just about one issue. There are a number of issues that make him open to challenge, and while Tory MPs question the rationale for their government as it raises taxes and spends more, the grounds for enthusiastic support for Johnson are also beginning to fall apart.

The first edition is of course the partigate. Many Conservative MPs have long cited the Sue Gray report as the moment when they will decide the whole thing. It follows that MPs from the “One Nation” wing of the party and those who value due process are now wearing their black hats. See Bob Neal’s comment that “trust is the most important commodity in politics.” He argues that Partygate has undermined confidence in the prime minister and in the political process itself.

The decision to reduce the ministerial code further marginalized the representatives who value decency. Labor’s Annelise Dodds told me on Radio Times that Tory MPs have come to her to learn more about Labor’s plan for the Opposition Day movement to challenge the changes.

It’s not over yet. New discoveries over the weekend about a second meeting at Flat No 10 during lockdown, which Carrie Johnson was hugging on her husband’s birthday, are catnip to angry MPs. The Original Flat Drink #10 – the night Dominic Cummings left – has always been the most controversial among MPs. Not only is it more difficult to explain than having a drink in the office. It also plays into their fear of a shadow process where government decisions are made privately with the preferred advisers and friends of the prime minister’s partner.

However, there are still many MPs who have decided that parties alone are not a reason to impeach the Prime Minister. This is where the election calculations come in, and using the MRP model to forecast over the weekend the Conservative Party would lose all but three seats on the battlefield if an election were held Now there is little reassurance for those on the fence.

This is why the resignation of Paul Holmes, who was part of the appointment of Conservative MPs in 2019, as Parliamentary Special Secretary at the Home Office, is seen by a Tory veteran as the most worrying development to date. The results of the local elections were poor, so electoral reality must have hit him. This will affect a much larger number of people in the by-election [this month] And the locals next year.”

The losses in the difficult June 23 election would highlight the electoral danger the party currently faces. Tiverton and Honiton are usually a safe seat for the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats have become the main contenders here. The other, Wakefield, is the Red Wall District and the Labor Party are vying to win it. If the Conservative Party loses both seats, there is acute tension in the parliamentary group.

Conservative MPs are also experiencing a broader identity crisis. Johnson’s strategy was to bolster support from his party’s right wing in order to keep his job. There’s been a range of red meat policies – from proposals to send asylum seekers to Rwanda to a plan to privatize Channel 4 – and there’s more to come: just look at the promise to fire on EU regulations and talk of more high schools. But last week’s spending announcement – a £15bn support package funded in part by an unexpected tax – had the opposite effect. Senior conservatives such as Ian Duncan Smith have criticized politics. He argued that the party had a “huge identity problem” because of raising taxes when it should lower them. With the bleak economy emerging for the foreseeable future, it looks like an uphill battle for the Johnson administration to move to better ground.

All this makes leadership elections – in which all votes are anonymous – a risky business for a prime minister who has repeatedly tested his party’s patience. “Unless you [his campaign team] Completely incompetent – whatever the stakes – must win it,” says a former minister. “The biggest risk is that the number against him will end up being higher than expected.”

At that point Johnson will be safe for another year, but his authority will be further weakened. Suggestions by Johnson’s allies to MPs that if he is challenged after 12 months, he could call an election instead, have also inflamed relations rather than calm them. “It just makes colleagues think it’s dangerous to wait for action against him,” says one Conservative MP.

The prime minister held his ground earlier this year when many crossed it out, but leading the Conservatives into the next election will be his biggest challenge yet. Even if Johnson suffered the coming storm, his party would split and goodwill would soon run out.