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‘Wounded’ Johnson achieves ‘pyrrhic victory’ – UK papers reflect on Tory poll

Boris Johnson may have insisted he secured a ‘decisive win’ in a confidence ballot, but many of the papers cast him as ‘wounded’ and unlikely to recover the ascendancy (Alberto Pezzali/PA)
Boris Johnson may have insisted he secured a ‘decisive win’ in a confidence ballot, but many of the papers cast him as ‘wounded’ and unlikely to recover the ascendancy (Alberto Pezzali/PA)

Boris Johnson may have insisted he secured a “decisive win” in a confidence ballot, but many of the papers cast him as “wounded” and unlikely to recover the ascendancy.

Tory MPs voted by 211 to 148 in support of the Prime Minister on Monday, but the scale of the revolt was commented on by all the national mastheads.

The Times – along with the Financial Times and i – uses its front page to describe Mr Johnson as “wounded” and its journalists paint a grim picture inside.

Alice Thomson writes Tory MPs moved against their leader after facing “irate constituents over soggy sandwiches” during the Platinum Jubilee weekend.

Ms Thomson adds: “This wasn’t calculated or rational, but emotional – they just cannot let him debase them any more. It is no longer just about self-preservation but self-respect.

“The question now is whether the Cabinet will have the guts to follow.”

Matthew Parris says the result is “the worst possible outcome for the Conservative Party”, while James Forsyth writes: “Johnson’s margin of victory suggests that if this uprising had been more organised and his critics had waited until after the two by-elections later this month, they might well have succeeded in ousting him.

Former Tory leader Lord Hague notes in the paper that he did not face a confidence vote while leader of the opposition from 1997 to 2001, but added he “would have regarded my position as completely untenable if more than a third of my MPs had ever voted against me”.

“Deep inside, he should recognise that, and turn his mind to getting out in a way that spares party and country such agonies and uncertainties,” Lord Hague says.

Conservative Party historian Lord Lexden writes in a letter to the paper’s editor that Tories “must rediscover the capacity to settle changes of leadership briskly when the need arises”.

Sherelle Jacobs writes in The Daily Telegraph – the PM’s former employer – that his prospects “look grim” as she recalls a Noel Coward quote about Anthony Eden: “‘A tragic figure who had been cast in a star part well above his capabilities.’”

Ms Jacobs adds: “It is bad enough that Johnson’s premiership could amount to such a dismal cliche. Must we now watch the tragedy descend into a farce as he defiantly limps on?”

Politics professor Sir John Curtice, writing in the same paper, suggests Mr Johnson’s problems are far from over.

“No-confidence votes in themselves have a negligible impact on the leader’s personal popularity. They are instead a strong indicator of widespread discontent. For such a small electorate, the Conservative parliamentary party has shown an ability to respond when the sentiment around them hits a dangerous low,” Sir John says.

The Daily Express writes in its leader that more than a third of the Tories voting against Mr Johnson “is a bad result for the Prime Minister”.

Still, it adds, “serious” times call for “serious leaders” and it insists the PM has “consistently got the big calls right”.

It cites Brexit, the pace of the UK’s vaccine rollout and Mr Johnson mustering the international effort to defend Ukraine.

“The vote is over and it is time to move on and give the PM a chance to prove himself to be true to his word,” the paper adds.

Daily Mail columnist Stephen Glover also throws his support behind the leader, writing that “when he focuses his energy, he can produce the goods” in a piece which also suggests Mr Johnson can bounce back by cutting taxes and providing a “real” Brexit dividend.

Elsewhere, the paper quotes Tory MP Chris Clarkson as saying potential Downing Street challenger Jeremy Hunt is a “pound-shop Machiavelli”.

The Mail’s leader concludes: “If it continues, this circular firing squad can have only one result. A Tory bloodbath which propels Sir Keir and his wrecking-crew coalition into government.”

The equivalent section of The Sun says Tory rebels “should have given Boris another year to turn things around”, with Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab writing on the same page that Mr Johnson is a leader with “the perseverance to deliver on the people’s priorities”.

Mr Johnson is described in the Daily Mirror’s leader as a “zombie Prime Minister” who achieved a “pyrrhic victory”.

The paper says: “Johnson will stagger on. All his energy will be devoted to supergluing himself to No 10’s black door. If this month’s red wall Wakefield and blue wall Tiverton by-elections are lost, MPs who backed him will regret their stupidity.

“Johnson’s pyrrhic victory was a terrible win.”

The Guardian’s political editor Heather Stewart posits that the confidence vote’s result has not drawn a line under discontent in Government, saying: “Johnson’s win is unlikely to quell the ferment in his deeply unhappy party.”

She adds: “If the party’s standing in the polls continues to worsen in the coming months, backbench MPs could also urge the 1922 Committee to change the leadership contest rules, to make it possible to attempt to topple him again within a year.”