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Katy Balls

Johnson’s critics are circling once again

Johnson's critics are circling once again
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As Boris Johnson feels he has been vindicated in his resistance to new Covid restrictions, Downing Street had hoped that his party would give him due credit. However, after a tricky few months, the Prime Minister instead finds himself under fire from his own side on a number of fronts.

Former cabinet minister and long time ally Sir David Frost used an interview in the Mail on Sunday to warn his former boss to be a proper Tory or face the consequences; Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen has called on Johnson to focus on the levelling up agenda; fresh claims from Dominic Cummings over Downing Street parties have led to calls for a broadening of the inquiry; while a new YouGov poll finds that almost half of all Tory members now believe that Rishi Sunak would make a better leader than Johnson. 

Even on Covid, there is frustration in Whitehall that it risks becoming a vessel by which leadership hopefuls can garner support from the Tory membership by pushing for an end to all restrictions. Both Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi and Chancellor Rishi Sunak are understood to be in favour of cutting the isolation period to five days. 

Part of the issue for Johnson is that while his MPs are relieved he resisted bringing in new restrictions, many of them believe the main reason he did this was because his cabinet overruled him and he was in too vulnerable a position to press on. 

But of all the issues currently filling Johnson's in-tray, it's the cost of living that is causing the most concern. Several select committee chairs have this morning called on Johnson to save the country from a cost of living crisis. As Jacob Rees-Mogg suggested to the Prime Minister last week — much to his annoyance — ditching the planned National Insurance rise could be one place to start. 

However, Downing Street is resistant to the idea and views it as key to fixing the NHS backlog. Johnson will hold talks with Rishi Sunak this week over the measures they could take to counter soaring energy bills and rising goods costs. Labour has called for a windfall tax on North Sea oil and gas producers to pay for support for vulnerable people. Meanwhile, Tory MPs are questioning the wisdom of green levies on bills. Given that Johnson suggested in an interview at Conservative party conference that concerns over inflation were 'unfounded', he will need to show he now grasps the seriousness of the situation. 

Written byKaty Balls

Katy Balls is The Spectator's deputy political editor.

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