In this age of social media, it’s live by the tweet and die by the tweet. And when a Tory PM is in peril, such shenanigans take on an importance of semi-constitutional significance as ministers rush (or hesitate) to signal their allegiances. The most ominous sign for Boris Johnson yesterday was how quiet his Cabinet colleagues were after his dreadful PMQs battering.
The session concluded shortly after 12:30 p.m but it was nearly two-and-a-half hours before the first minister declared their support. The social media silence was in stark contrast to Barnard Castle 18 months ago when minister after minister threw themselves over the top to defend Dominic Cummings. Eventually, the Cabinet's most ardent Boris-backer finally piped up, with Nadine Dorries finding the courage to declare: ‘PM was right to personally apologise earlier. People are hurt and angry at what happened and he has taken full responsibility for that.’ Cue an enraged social media pile-on.
That less than full-throated defence was about as good as it got for the embattled Johnson regime as ministers began to dutifully send their tweets. Westminster watchers set up tallies to see when each Cabinet member — all of whom were appointed by Boris — nailed their colours to the mast. Half-hearted stamps of approval dribbled out across the afternoon, with 20 of the 24 ministers able to do so by 9:30 p.m. It’s no surprise that among the remaining four were the Secretaries of State for Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.
Few tweets focused on the PM and his supposed virtues: most suggested the bare minimum necessary to avoid a haranguing from the whips. Nadhim Zahawi, a dark horse for Tory leader, merely sent a ‘thumbs up’; Sajid Javid added the proviso ‘I completely understand why people feel let down.’ The two main contenders to succeed Boris were among the last to tweet their support, with Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss managing it at 20:11 p.m and 21:14 p.m respectively.
Still, at least one minister was on hand to deliver some much-needed fealty. Zac Goldsmith, a signed-up member of Carrie Johnson's crew, popped up with a list of Johnson's achievements that began with his 'stonking majority' and concluded by suggesting it was only 'the left and Remain/Covid fanatics [who] want him gone.' Conspicuously that 'stonking majority' of course did not include Goldsmith's own constituency of Richmond, which he lost, forcing Johnson to, er, reward him with a seat for life in the House of Lords.
As for those who want 'him gone,' Mr S would point out this belief is shared by 66 per cent of the great British public, who now want Boris to quit. Can they all be leftists, Remainiacs and Covid fanatics?