(Justin Tallis - Pool/Getty Images)

Boris is LINO

The Prime Minister is now Leader In Name Only

Artillery Row

Until this Tuesday’s shock resignations, Boris Johnson still held a considerable advantage over previous Conservative prime ministers to which his plight is compared. Unlike these predecessors, he had succeeded in keeping his Cabinet together.

Compare that to the months preceding the fatal leadership challenge to Margaret Thatcher, who had suffered the resignation first of her Chancellor and then of her most experienced Cabinet colleague, Sir Geoffrey Howe. Her MPs were divided on keeping her, it was her Cabinet who undermined her efforts to carry on. More wretched still was Theresa May who endured twelve Cabinet resignations including that of her Foreign Secretary before she could be winkled out of office.

While Johnson retained a Cabinet still prepared to tolerate him, he had a reasonable chance of seeing out the immediate hazards and perhaps stumbling on into 2023 in the hope that something helpful might turn up. But Tuesday’s supposedly uncoordinated resignations of Rishi Sunak and Sajid Javid do more than reveal the extent of disquiet at his tone and direction among some of his most senior (now ex-) Cabinet colleagues.

The resignations — for which there was no forewarning — are timed to maximise damage, coming in the week prior to the elections to the 1922 Committee executive. If his critics embed themselves there, they will be able to move the re-writing of the leadership election rules, undermining the twelve-month grace period before he could face another ballot of his MPs.

This is not all. Besides whatever steer on policy and reassurance to the nation that a prime minister, as head of government, provides, the office comes with a singularly useful power – patronage. Boris Johnson can still wave this wand – making Chancellors out of Nadhim Zahawi, Health Secretaries of Steve Barclay and Education Secretaries of Michelle Donelan within hours of losing Sunak and Javid. But to what purpose?

Johnson is now so weak and in need of any friends he can find that he can resist no Cabinet colleague on any issue of substance. He cannot cope with further resignations. He would be ill-advised to start sacking anyone remotely dangerous. A prime minister needs his office — if not his personality — to be respected. Yet, what senior colleague of guile and ambition should now fear him?

Norman Lamont in his 1993 resignation speech as Chancellor described John Major’s government as being in office but not in power. What Boris Johnson now appears destined to endure — for as long or short as this torture may be extended — is the reality of being LINO (leader in name only).

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