The myth of Red Wall MPs propping up Boris Johnson

It is regularly suggested in the media that so called ‘Red Wall’ Conservative MPs are providing a backbone of support for Boris Johnson within the parliamentary Conservative party – the body that remains the single judge, jury and executioner of the prime minister’s future.

However, this website has examined the public statements of Red Wall MPs and found that they are not more supportive of Boris Johnson’s cause than their colleagues.

51 of the 359 current MPs in the parliamentary Conservative party are Red Wall MPs. These are the MPs representing the Midlands, north Wales and the north of England who have all been elected from Labour since 2017.  As it stands now:

  • 27 of 51 Red Wall MPs made public statements or indicated that they were supportive of the PM (53%), against 161 of the 359 Conservative MPs (45%).
  • 13 Red Wall MPs (25%) appear to be open to a possible change in their party leader. This is only marginally less than the 33% in the parliamentary Conservative party (121 from 359).
  • 11 Red Wall Conservative MPs (22%) have yet to give any meaningful public ‘tell’ as to their feelings on Boris Johnson’s future. This is almost the same proportion as Conservative MPs in general.

Red Wall Conservative MPs’ split is therefore a reflection of the wider parliamentary Conservative party.


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Conservative MPs across all of the party’s marginal seats, not just those in the Red Wall, remain divided as to whether Boris Johnson represents their best chance of them keeping their jobs.  There are plenty who now regard the PM as an electoral liability, but without an obvious ‘big beast’ replacement in Conservative ranks, there are others who take the opposite view.  Many of them still feel gratitude to Johnson for their 2019 success.

Outside of those camps, a quarter of the Conservative MPs (31 MPs) representing the party’s 120 most marginal seats have yet to give any public indication of their views towards the prime minister’s future.

There is an increasing number of MPs calling for the resignation of the PM, with more being added every day.   Nearly all of these MPs have been known to be hostile towards Mr Johnson.  Although they create the impression that the prime minister’s position is weakening, the optics can be misleading.

At least 68 Conservative MPs can be described as outwardly hostile towards Mr Johnson.   That is more than enough to keep the daily drip going for some time, and certainly enough ‘letter writers’ to force a vote of no confidence in the prime minister.

It is less well known that 161 Conservative MPs are a rival group, who seem to be loyal to the PM.

For all the media hype, the number of Johnson loyalists explains why the Conservative leader’s opponents have yet to make their move.

As it stands, the PM appears to have a good chance to secure the 180 votes that he needs to remain in his post in any confidence vote.   If he does so, he would have a year of grace to face a new challenge.   It would be too close for Conservative MPs then to effect a change at the end of the period, especially considering the time required to create a Conservative leadership contest.

In Machiavellian times, a prime minister may find an early contest attractive.

By now, views on the merits and implications of the prime minister’s ‘partygate’ conduct, both in his management of Downing Street and in the honesty of his statements to the House of Commons, are surely ‘baked in’.  This is true for Conservative MPs just as it is for members of the public.

In turn, it is future events that would seem more likely to dictate the longevity of Mr Johnson’s tenure in post.

The prime minister is most concerned about the effect of the worsening economy on the opinion polls.   Johnson could also be affected by an unexpectedly large number of ministerial resignations.

It could be even more complicated.  There are many unforeseen events that could occur.  These could include a worsening international situation with Russia, internal turmoil in the Labour party (especially in light of Durham police investigation), health of the monarch, potential for a virulent covid strain or a new political scandal.

In this context, any focus on the current attitudes and policies of the 51 Red Wall Conservative MPs would be misplaced.

They are not more likely to be swing voters that their parliamentary colleagues.