Boris Johnson has faced his second backbench revolt this week after 18 Conservative MPs voted against the government by calling for independent assessments of how many staff the National Health Service (NHS) needs to meet patient demand. The government survived the vote, as it did on Monday when 19 Conservative MPs defied the party whip on another amendment to the Health and Care Bill.
Labour backed the latest amendment which was in the name of former health secretary Jeremy Hunt, Mr Johnson’s rival for the Conservative leadership in 2019. It would have required the government to publish every two years independent assessments of the workforce numbers the NHS would need.
“The support he has obtained from wider stakeholders outside the House is impressive. Indeed, the way he has united just about the entire sector shows not only his powers of persuasion but the importance of the issue,” Labour’s shadow health minister Justin Madders said of Mr Hunt.
The backbench rebellions came as Downing Street insisted that the prime minister was not unwell and that he had not lost his grip following a rambling and sometimes bizarre speech to the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) on Monday. In the speech, Mr Johnson compared himself to Moses, imitated the noise of a car engine and criticised civil servants for lacking the creative spirit required to invent the children’s character Peppa Pig.
The prime minister’s official spokesman said Mr Johnson was physically well and retained his grip on the government.
“The prime minister briefly lost his place in a speech. He has given hundreds of speeches. I don’t think it’s unusual for people on rare occasions to lose their place in a speech,” his official spokesman said. “The prime minister is well. He is very much focused on delivering for the public.”
Mr Johnson has angered some Conservatives by making last-minute changes to a plan to fund social care which mean that people on low incomes would have to pay up to £86,000 (€102,000) for their care. The change means that people who own houses with a high value will be more protected than those in parts of the country where property values are lower.
Mr Johnson told his cabinet on Tuesday the new policy meant “no one will be forced to sell a home they or their spouse is living in”. The Conservative manifesto two years ago offered a flat guarantee that “no one needing care has to sell their home to pay for it”.
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Steve Barclay told the Cabinet that turkey supplies had been secured for Christmas but the prime minister’s spokesman was unable to guarantee that all presents would be available.
“We remain confident that we are taking the right action to deal with the supply challenges that we are seeing globally,” he said. ”That’s not to say that individual sectors won’t face some issues, as will be seen in other countries.”