Boris Johnson Christmas parties scandal: Any new Tory leader will inherit a divided party – Ian Swanson

Two years ago this week, Boris Johnson won a general election with an 80-seat majority and the biggest share of the vote since Margaret Thatcher was first elected in 1979.

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Today he is in serious trouble over the government's apparent disregard of the Covid rules they themselves drew up, holding several Christmas parties last year in defiance of the ban on social mixing. Mr Johnson is being openly criticised by Tory backbenchers and even Scottish party leaders.

Already damaged by the Owen Patterson lobbying scandal, he is now facing more questions about the bill for the lavish redecoration of his Downing Street flat, a large backbench rebellion on vaccine passports, and a potential electoral setback in the Shropshire North by-election on Thursday. Some say this could be the beginning of the end for the Prime Minister.

There are few things that go down worse with voters than behaviour at the top which says there's one rule for us and another for the rest of you. Labour is now ahead in the polls, with one weekend survey giving them a nine-point lead.

Tory MPs and members chose Mr Johnson as leader because they saw him as a vote-winner – and he duly delivered at the 2019 election.

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But now it looks like that appeal is rapidly wearing off. And the Tories are notoriously brutal when it comes to disposing of leaders no longer judged to be an electoral asset.

Rishi Sunak, seen at the London Wonderground comedy and music festival, is seen as a contender to replace Boris Johnson (Picture: Peter Nicholls/WPA pool/Getty Images)

There has been speculation previously about whether Mr Johnson wanted to carry on in office for very long, so it is at least conceivable that if discontent grows he would choose to find some reason for leaving and quit on his own terms rather than face the humiliation of a visit from “the men in grey suits”.

Mr Johnson has been in office for less than two and a half years – by no means the shortest prime-ministerial term, but if he is forced out anytime soon he will be the third Tory on the trot to leave Number Ten well before completing their term of office.

David Cameron served a full term in charge of the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition, but having won a majority of his own in 2015 he survived just 14 months in office before resigning when he failed to win the EU referendum.

Theresa May then lost the Tories’ majority in an ill-judged snap election but managed to carry on, serving as premier for just over three years, quitting when she could not persuade MPs to back her Brexit deal.

Some say this could be the beginning of the end for Boris Johnson

If Mr Johnson follows them out the door, the list of potential successors includes Liz Truss, Rishi Sunak and Priti Patel. But would any of them last any longer?

Amid the row over the rule-breaking Christmas parties and the other scandals, it is easy to overlook the serious divisions inside the Tory party, both the “libertarian” split over Covid restrictions and the “red wall” divide between MPs for traditional, well-heeled Conservative constituencies and those in northern, more working-class seats won from Labour at the last election.

Holding a divided party together is a challenge for any leader, especially if they are trying to run the country at the same time. If the Tories remain in power, we could be looking at a succession of short-term survivors.

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