Katy Balls

Boris Johnson prepares to fight back. Will it work?

Boris Johnson prepares to fight back. Will it work?
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Tory MPs return from their constituencies today to Westminster after canvassing opinion about the ongoing partygate row. The good news for Boris Johnson is that only one of the party's MP has come out over the weekend to call for him to resign. Tim Loughton – the MP for East Worthing and Shoreham – said he had received extensive messages from constituents and had regretfully concluded that Johnson’s 'resignation is the only way to bring this whole unfortunate spectacle to an end'. Other MPs report the feedback from their voters over the weekend as 'bleak'.

However, over in 10 Downing Street, Johnson – currently in isolation – is preparing to fight back. The Prime Minister and his team are optimistic that Johnson will survive the Sue Gray report into alleged parties (largely because the scope of that report is to look into the details of such events, rather than suggest a form of punishment for the Prime Minister). In the wake of that report – which could emerge either at the end of the week or next week – there will be a staff cull which is expected to be largely made up of officials and potentially some special advisers. This will be pitched as Johnson dealing with the issue and changing the work culture; there is also talk of a 'booze at your desk' ban coming into play. 

The final step of the plan to save Johnson has been dubbed 'Operation Red Meat'. This is No. 10's bid to win over wavering Tory MPs and voters with a spate of Tory policies – including freezing the BBC licence fee for two years, bringing in the military to deal with the channel crossings and fleshing out Levelling Up through Michael Gove's white paper. 

Will it work? The plan rests on several factors, including no new damaging revelations between now and the publication of Sue Gray report. Most importantly, whether Boris can survive will come down to changing public opinion. This will be an uphill task. Over the weekend, Johnson's approval ratings – according to an Opinium poll – fell below Theresa May's at her lowest. What's more, axing tens of staff to save your own skin could lead to some new revelations in of itself. 

Written byKaty Balls

Katy Balls is The Spectator's deputy political editor.

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