Nothing like the offspring to end the brief basking in the Guardian’s ‘Mystic Meg’ label. “If you can see things, how come you can’t tell you are a complete loser?” was the youngest’s verdict.
The dangerous tweet on Monday forecast 211 votes for Boris Johnson (correct) and 147 rebels (actual figure: 148). See, I can’t even correctly count the number of Conservative MPs. And I didn’t even get a bet on, so wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry when the result was announced.
The Twitter invitations to accompany people to the races (never a problem), pick their lotto numbers and choose the winner of Love Island were all very generous.
Much as I would love to claim the prediction as triumph of earnest political science, the truth is a little less glorious. It involved a fair amount of guesswork — not all of it educated — plus hunches.
Insofar as there was calculation, it lay in assessing the number of pledges for and against the prime minister, comparing them to Theresa May’s position when she faced a similar vote in December 2018.
Analysing those affirmations, it was evident that Johnson was on course for a worse result than the 63% support garnered by his predecessor. May had more public support from her MPs and fewer declarations of opposition.
It also became clear that the momentum lay with Johnson’s opponents. More and more declared against him, flushing out other rebels. They grew in confidence, believing power was gravitating from the prime minister. At one point there was even outlandish talk of a Johnson defeat.
That was always unrealistic. There are two significant repositories of loyalty to the PM. One is the payroll vote, all government ranks from senior cabinet ministers to parliamentary private secretary bag-carriers and trade envoys. That amounts to a ludicrously bloated tally of 160 MPs. In the privacy of the polling booth, not all backed the PM but most would have remained loyal. Add to those the bulk of the class of 2019, those 58 Conservative MPs who gained seats from other parties at the last election. Most, not all, like Johnson, regarding him as an electoral asset to whom they are indebted. So, 160 plus 58, minus a few strays, and you get a figure not far removed from the PM’s vote.
As I replied on Twitter to Suzanne Breen of this parish and the BBC’s Mark Carruthers, calling Monday night’s vote — just the one count and no vote transfers — was a lot easier than deciding the final seat in some Assembly election constituencies. North Antrim will forever keep me awake at night.
What next for Boris? Gazing into the crystal ball, I see two by-election losses looming. I visualise a PM staggering on the political ropes until July 22, when parliament adjourns for summer holidays. Beyond? The small matter of the parliamentary privileges committee possibly deciding Johnson misled parliament. Can the escapologist’s escapologist survive that? He might disappear into the autumn mist. But in which autumn?
Jon Tonge, AKA Mystic Meg, was speaking from his booth at the University of Liverpool.