But his bombast, often so effective, has at last misfired. Lawmakers from different wings of the party have united against him: Figures who never liked him have joined ranks with dedicated Brexiteers unhappy at his cavalier attitude and devout Christians upset by what they regard as his amorality. The depth and breadth of internal opposition mean it cannot be dismissed as the work of those who dislike Brexit or are nursing personal grudges.
Yet the fraying of Mr. Johnson’s relationship with his party long predates the past few months. Conservative lawmakers have felt that their voices were not being listened to pretty much since he won power so comprehensively in 2019. Things really took a turn for the worse at the end of 2021, when he told his party to back a legislator suspended for a breach of lobbying rules, only to suddenly reverse course. For many younger lawmakers, it proved that Mr. Johnson did not know what he was doing and that he could not be trusted.
Nevertheless, Mr. Johnson’s staff members are hopeful that he can rebuild his authority. A new team of aides was brought in this year to stave off rebellion. Along with the war in Ukraine, which allowed him to play the statesman, this reorganization bought the prime minister time. But as efforts to renew trust have become less energetic, a bleak electoral reality has seeped into view.
The problem for Mr. Johnson is that there isn’t much good news coming down the line. After the government’s failure so far to flesh out the pledge to “level up” the country and its decision to raise taxes, few are enthused by his domestic agenda. This disquiet is compounded by the cost of living crisis, as inflation continues to rise.
What’s more, elections this month in two contrasting seats — Wakefield, a northern constituency recently prized from Labour, and Tiverton and Honiton, a traditionally Conservative constituency in the southwest — could prove damaging. If they go against the Conservatives, as seems possible, it would amount to a major blow. Then there’s the small matter of a House of Commons investigation into whether Mr. Johnson misled Parliament, usually a resigning offense.
While Mr. Johnson may be safe, in theory, for another 12 months, no one really thinks that is the case. The rules governing the Conservative Party are opaque and can be changed in an afternoon. The sense among senior Tories is that if a majority turns against Mr. Johnson, he will be gone before the year is out.