For a few weeks, it seemed as though Boris Johnson had managed to steady the ship.
From the dark days of January and February, when his leadership was on the brink due to the allegations of lockdown rule-breaking in Downing Street, the prime minister had got back on track.
The war in Ukraine provided him with the opportunity to focus on international affairs, and his response to the crisis has been widely-praised.
Some MPs who had previously submitted letters of no confidence in his leadership withdrew them, insisting now would be the wrong time to change prime ministers.
Using the breathing space Ukraine had afforded him, Johnson attempted to get on the front foot by publishing an energy security strategy which, he claimed, would eventually help to tackle the cost of living crisis.
Rishi Sunak’s well-publicised troubles over his wife’s non-dom tax status and the row over his decision to hang on to a US green card while being a government minister meant there was no obvious successor should the PM fall, further shoring up Johnson’s position.
But the Metropolitan Police’s decision to fine Johnson – as well as his wife and Sunak – for attending a No. 10 birthday party for the prime minister in June 2020 – returned partygate to the front pages and raised fundamental questions about his judgment.
Although he apologised, Johnson vowed to ride out the controversy, even though further fines are expected for other gatherings he attended.
U-turn if you want to
But this week’s chaotic handling of Labour’s attempt to hold a privileges committee inquiry into whether the PM misled parliament over partygate showed how precarious his position remains.
Having initially tried to block it, Johnson was eventually forced to U-turn after it became clear that dozens of his own MPs – including some ministers – were refusing to support his position.
“I know one colleague who told the whips they were willing to be sacked rather than vote with the government,” revealed one backbencher.
MPs eventually agreed that the…