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A bleak midwinter for Boris

The “rumble of discontent” over Boris Johnson’s leadership “is fast becoming a roar”, says Jason Groves in the Daily Mail. Outrage over alleged lockdown-breaking parties has combined with backbench opposition to new “plan B” Covid measures. Johnson can expect to face “the biggest Tory revolt of his premiership” when the measures are voted on next Tuesday. Then there’s a new Electoral Commission report that poses “fresh questions” about whether the PM told the truth about his flat refurbishment. This growing pile of scandals has left many Tories wondering whether their “talismanic leader” is worth the chaos he brings with him. Some MPs are even “whispering feverishly” about a vote of no confidence. Johnson needs to sharpen up his operation fast. If things aren’t better by Easter, says one Tory MP, he “could be in very serious trouble”.

The PM has always been willing to “throw his own team under the bus”, says Gaby Hinsliff in The Guardian. He turned on Allegra Stratton as soon as the video of her laughing about references to a party emerged (see below). “Why do Tories keep metaphorically jumping into bed with him, knowing how it invariably ends?” Some think they can control him, “as Dominic Cummings seemingly did”. Others consider the relationship “briskly transactional”. It’s on those “constantly shifting calculations” – about how much longer MPs can stand being sent out to defend the indefensible – that Johnson’s fate rests.

He’s not in any immediate danger of defenestration, says Fraser Nelson in The Daily Telegraph. Johnson is still “by some margin” the best election-winner the Tories have. “But a glorious revolution now seems to be under way” – the PM remains, but with his powers curtailed. Health Secretary Sajid Javid publicly ruled out mandatory vaccinations the day after Johnson said it should be a “national conversation”. And a few weeks ago Chancellor Rishi Sunak “drew his own red line”: any extra revenue, he privately told backbenchers, will be used to cut taxes rather than “swell the state”. The Cabinet has finally realised that if Johnson is left alone, “there’s no telling what damage he’d do”.

🎉 🎤 😭 Allegra Stratton was hired as Downing Street press secretary last year to usher in “Boris 2.0”, says Helen Rumbelow in The Times. The “straight-talking” former journalist wanted to establish a mature, honest relationship with the public after the ruthlessness of the Cummings era. But she was reassigned as Cop26 spokeswoman before a single TV briefing aired. It was clear from rehearsals that Stratton was “uncontrollably frank” – too frank for her boss. “She’s not laughing for fun” in the leaked video, one former colleague says. It’s a laugh of embarrassment about having to rehearse a lie.

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