Is Boris Johnson teetering on the brink of the political precipice?

The big Tory beasts are biding their time, says Whitehouse Communications Chair, Chris Whitehouse.

The BBC loves to big up its “Tory rebellion” stories to suggest that Conservative Party unity is on the brink of a precipice over which Boris Johnson is about to take them to electoral oblivion if he doesn’t concede to the rebel demands. That interpretation even has the support of Labour Leader, Keir Starmer, gloating that the rebellion [yesterday 14th December] on vaccine passports was a significant blow to the already damaged authority of the Prime Minister and claiming that Johnson is “too weak to discharge the basic functions of government.”

But, patently that view from Starmer is not credible. Yes 99 Conservative backbenchers, some of them “senior figures” in the party took the opportunity for a free hit on Boris Johnson in full and certain knowledge that he would have the support of the Commons by a substantial majority despite their “rebellion”.

The fact is that even the most contentious motion on vaccine passports was passed by the Commons by 369 to 126 votes, an extremely comfortable majority of 243 votes, more than Boris can expect on many a day in parliament. That Boris Johnson got the support of the Commons and indeed the Labour Party, for his policies demonstrates why he’s the Conservative Party Leader and the rebels aren’t. He has a visceral instinct for politics, letting his rebels blow off steam in the confidence that he can continue to do what he believes [rightly or wrongly] is best for the country – and knocking the Christmas-Party-Gate scandal off the front pages and news headlines in the process.

The torch of liberty

That said, the rebellion was not pointless. It was an opportunity for the government to be challenged, to be reminded that there are within its ranks those who don’t buy into the big nanny state approach, with its impacts on liberty and on livelihoods, and who want the government to step back from its over-controlling tendencies as soon as practically possible. The guard-dogs of the torch of liberty, the former Conservative Party symbol, barked, but they didn’t really bite.

What were equally significant were the dogs that didn’t even bark. There was no cabinet rebellion, no ministerial resignations, and not even the usual clutch of parliamentary private secretaries slithering off the lowest possible rung of the ladder to future ministerial office. Even Jeremy Hunt, not held down by the shackles of the Government payroll, chose not to vote against the motions.

Mark Harper, the “leader” of the rebellion, understandably wants to settle old scores. Most voters won’t recognise his name or recall that his own bid for the Conservative leadership in 2019, which ultimately crowned Boris Johnson, was unsuccessful; as was the short-lived bid by Graham Brady, another prominent serial rebel.

All political careers end in failure, said an astute commentator once. Boris Johnson’s may yet one day do the same, and his party may in time turn on him. But, that day is not today and that time is not now. His potential rivals in the Cabinet, and there are several of great calibre, will bide their time.

Political consultancy

The Whitehouse team are expert political consultants providing public relations and public affairs advice and political analysis to a wide range of clients, not only in the United Kingdom, but also across the member states of the European Union and beyond. For more information, please contact our Chair, Chris Whitehouse, at

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