Boris Johnson really is a record breaker. He lost a by-election faster than any other prime minister in modern history and now he has the worst voting record too.
He is 4-0 down, four votes lost on the floor of the Commons, especially risible when you consider parliament has only sat for three days of his premiership.
But even for Westminster, even for Westminster of 2019, this was a topsy turvy day. An opposition choosing to refuse a chance to displace the government is a rare sight. As the prime minister glibly, but drolly observed: “it’s the first opposition in history to express its confidence in the government.”
So the ballot boxes will not be cracked open just yet but make no mistake; an election is not dead, merely deferred.
The government, partly through self-immolation, partly through attrition, has lost its majority, indeed is so far away from it that the assembled forces of the opposition now far exceed the administration’s numbers, even with the DUP.
It is in office but not in power. The opposition have wagered that they can maintain the government in place for a little longer, to compel the extension, make Johnson appear feeble and then have an election on their own terms in November.
I was told today by a well-placed Labour source that virtually every faction of the Parliamentary Labour Party was united on an election only after 31 October. That seems to accord with the direction of travel of the Labour leadership.
But I wonder how long that will hold. The prime minister’s last words of the night in the Commons implored Jeremy Corbyn to “consider the sustainability of their position”.
To me, this rings of a prime minister willing to make concessions, willing perhaps to enshrine in law an election date, with that date being before 31 October. If they do that, it’s hard to see what the grounds would be for continued Labour resistance.
One thing is for sure though – Boris Johnson had a truly dismal day in the House of Commons. Whilst MPs often despaired of Theresa May, they despise Boris Johnson.
During May’s time, it was often said that what was required was “force of personality” or “machismo”, something to break the deadlock.
In fact, Johnson’s personality has made the crisis worse. His pugnaciousness, his insistence on confronting parliament, has led to a conflagration this week which would not have occurred had he been more conciliatory.
Likewise, he has lost a score of his own MPs, in a way which was unimaginable under his predecessor. His famous slipperiness, his reputation for mendacity, has made prime ministerial assurances (such as over an election date) worthless, similarly unimaginable under any of his predecessors.
Boris Johnson may have virtues which resonate with voters, they do not with many parliamentarians, and they are making a break in the Brexit impasse even more difficult to obtain.
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