Boris Johnson will make the NHS a key feature of a series of expected policy announcements in the coming days, as the PM bids to move on from a bruising week which reignited reports of an impending confidence vote.
More than 40 Conservative MPs have publicly called on the prime minister to resign over the partygate scandal, which was thrust back into the spotlight following his response to the Sue Gray report.
Some have also confirmed that they’ve submitted a letter of no confidence in him to Sir Graham Brady, who chairs the 1922 Committee of Conservative backbenchers.
Under party rules, Mr Johnson will face a confidence vote in a secret ballot if 54 Tory MPs submit a letter – and some in Westminster believe the threshold could be met this week.
However, even if no such ballot is forthcoming this week, a new survey suggests that the prime minister could face a bruising result in a vote of a different kind later this month.
A survey of voters in Wakefield, who go to the polls for a by-election on 23 June to elect a new MP, suggests the Tories could lose by as much as 20 points.
The polling by JL Partners for The Sunday Times puts Labour on 48 points compared with 28 points for Mr Johnson’s outfit – a 19 point slip on the winning Tory performance two-and-a-half years ago.
Wakefield is part of the so-called “Red Wall” – traditionally Labour-supporting areas in the North of England, the Midlands, and Wales which switched their support to the Tories in 2019.
Labour had held Wakefield since 1932 before it turned blue. The seat is up for grabs again after former Tory incumbent Imran Ahmad Khan was found guilty of sexually assaulting a boy.
Mr Johnson faces another potential referendum on his leadership in Tiverton and Honiton’s by-election, held on the same day as Wakefield.
‘Partygate has turned voters against the Tories’
Partygate – which was the target of a joke by comedian Lee Mack at Saturday’s Platinum Jubilee concert – has certainly cut through to the public, JL Partners said.
The Gray report – released after a police probe which saw Mr Johnson among those fined – found raucous parties took place in Downing Street and Whitehall during lockdown, with staff throwing up and getting into altercations.
The prime minister was found to have attended a number of leaving dos for aides, giving speeches and joining in the drinking of alcohol.
James Johnson, from the pollster, tweeted: “The main hesitations about voting Conservative: trust, Boris, and a sense the Tories are out of touch and only care about the rich.
“All signs are that partygate has crystallised historic concerns about the Tories and turned the people of Wakefield decidedly against them.”
The company also revealed that 60% of those interviewed for the Wakefield survey, carried out last month, had a negative opinion of the PM, who was booed by crowds upon arrival at St Paul’s Cathedral on Friday.
Labour’s shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell, writing in The Observer, said the reaction “showed they [the public] know” that the PM does not uphold British values of diplomacy, rule of law, decency, and integrity.
Her party’s leader Sir Keir Starmer is currently the subject of a police investigation over a potential breach of lockdown rules in April 2021. He has vowed to resign if fined.
What are the PM’s plans for the coming week?
Mr Johnson will make a series of policy announcements over the next few days, with the NHS a focus.
In a statement, Mr Johnson said: “The pandemic put unparalleled pressure on our NHS, but we are making excellent progress towards our goal of tackling the COVID backlogs.
“With record numbers of doctors and nurses, and a system backed by unprecedented government funding, we will continue to make sure patients receive world-class care whenever they need it.
“This week we will update on how we are driving down waiting lists and delivering more scans, checks, and tests than ever before as we support the NHS in its biggest ever catch-up programme.”
The PM has reportedly got several other announcements up his sleeve, designed to appease his critics.
Among them are extending the right to buy scheme – and publishing domestic legislation designed to override elements of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
It is feared acting unilaterally on the protocol – part of the Brexit deal Mr Johnson signed with the EU – could spark a trade war with Brussels.