Conservative MPs are privately warning that a swathe of cabinet ministers and other high-profile Tories are on course to lose their seats at the next general election under Boris Johnson.
Those with seats at risk in the south of England include the deputy prime minister, Dominic Raab, the cabinet minister, Jacob Rees-Mogg, and the former health secretary Jeremy Hunt. MPs in London whose seats are at risk include the former cabinet ministers Iain Duncan Smith and Theresa Villiers
Johnson himself would be on course to lose to Labor in Uxbridge, although pollsters often caution that incumbent prime ministers enjoy some electoral cushion. Others at risk of losing their seats include key critics of the PM, Steve Baker and William Wragg.
Polling suggests the Conservative vote holds up better in north-east England and the east Midlands than it does in the south, borne out by local election results.
At least one senior MP has privately warned colleagues that antipathy to Johnson is creating a perfect storm for the party in which he could lose big majorities in the south of England and smaller leads in the north of England, because fewer voters in the north need to turn against the Tories in order for the seat to be lost.
The MP said there was a widespread view forming in the party that it could not win an election under Johnson’s leadership after the byelection defeats in Wakefield, and Tiverton and Honiton.
The warnings came as Labor sources played down the possibility of defections from the Conservatives in “red wall” areas – stressing that the party believed it was on course to win back many of those seats.
One senior Tory in an at-risk seat said voters in liberal, southern seats were being won over more successfully by the Labor leader, Keir Starmer, than traditional Labor voters. They said those voters were content to vote either Labor or Lib Dem in order to oust a Conservative incumbent.
“Starmer is definitely appealing to my voters, there’s no doubt,” they said.
Johnson has insisted on the question of his leadership is “settled” after winning a no-confidence vote in his leadership – although the majority of his backbenchers voted against him. He has said he intends to fight two further elections.
“At the moment I’m thinking actively about the third term and what could happen then, but I will review that when I get to it,” he told reporters over the weekend.
Johnson is safe from a confidence vote for at least a year under the current party rules, which are determined by the executive committee of the 1922 Committee. However, a number of his backbench critics are seeking election to the committee within weeks, including Baker.
MPs said they believed there were other flashpoints that could trigger a change in the rules to force another contest. The most likely is the report by the privileges committee of MPs, which is investigating whether Johnson misled parliament over lockdown breaches in Downing Street.
Baker also said the party would need to move if Johnson attempted to call an election before the privileges committee returned its verdict.
Other potential crisis moments include another potential byelection loss in Somerton and Frome, where the MP David Warburton is suspended after allegations were published about sexual misconduct and drug use. The seat has a large Tory majority but was previously held by the Lib Dems.
Several of Johnson’s critics including the former cabinet minister Damian Green have urged the cabinet to step in and tell Johnson that he cannot win an election.
On Tuesday, Pauline Latham, the MP for Mid Derbyshire who previously served on the committee executive, told BBC Radio Derby the cabinet should move against the prime minister.
Latham, who voted against Johnson in the confidence vote, said: “The problem is, many of them think they can keep their job for a long time and don’t want to [depose the prime minister] but actually, what’s more important, the country or the party or your own job? We do need the cabinet to move.”
Latham said the recent resignation of the party chair, Oliver Dowden, was seen as purely a reaction to the byelection defeats. “If another cabinet minister goes, I think then we’ll see a few but they seem to be sticking together, and I think it’s because they will want to hold on to their jobs.”
Big beasts at risk
Boris Johnson – Uxbridge and South Ruislip
Johnson is on course to lose his seat to Labour, according to YouGov’s latest MRP poll, though incumbent prime ministers often benefit from slightly skewed results in their favour.
Dominic Raab – Esher and Walton
The Liberal Democrats have long targeted the deputy prime minister’s seat and current polling trends suggest they would take the seat at a canter.
Jeremy Hunt – South West Surrey
Hunt has been targeted by “progressive alliance” campaigners before, including an independent NHS campaigner when he was health secretary. His majority will look appetizing to Lib Dems.
Labor have been steadily gaining in the seat, where demographics are moving in the party’s favour.
Jacob Rees-Mogg – North East Somerset
A tough call for the progressive alliance – Labor is the main challenger and took the West of England mayoralty but the Lib Dems recently took the council and the vote last time was almost evenly split between the parties. His majority has been lower in the past, but increased in 2019.