In rebellion, there is safety in numbers. At some point, if enough backbenchers are going against the party whip there is a limit to what those enforcers of party discipline can threaten. There is also the fact that after such a large rebellion, there must be an attempt to bring the party back together: which means there can’t be a blanket bar on promotion for rebels. The Tory uprising against the government’s Covid Plan B has easily passed this tipping point: the whips can’t blackball 75 MPs. This means rebellion is more likely to grow than shrink.
Tomorrow, Labour can exploit this to the full. They’ll be able to highlight how these measures are only passing because they are supporting them, increasing the discomfort on the Tory benches. It is uniquely damaging to a Prime Minister’s relationship with his own party to rely on opposition votes to get his business through. It is already leading to muttering on the Tory benches about what other issues Boris Johnson might be prepared to do this on.
It will, in the words of Browning, be ‘never glad confident morning again’ for Johnson and his parliamentary party. The relationship will become even more transactional than it already has been, with Tory MPs keeping a nervous eye on the polls.
Much will depend on how the attempt to ramp up the booster campaign goes. If the ambitious goals are hit, then Johnson will have something to talk to. But if the effort is bedevilled by logistical problems — and it is not encouraging that the government appears to have run out of lateral flow tests despite the health secretary encouraging everyone to take them before socialising — then things will only get worse for Downing Street.