It took the Prime Minister more than 24 hours to sit out the whip from Chris Pincher over allegations of sexual misconduct – but moved quickly to impose a harsher sentence on an MP who had called on Mr Johnson’s own misconduct
That’s why Boris Johnson’s withdrawal of the lash from Tobias Ellwood – a supporter of Penny Mordaunt – for not backing the Government in Monday’s confidence vote could play a role in deciding who becomes the next Prime Minister.
As the battle for Rishi Sunak intensifies in the final round of the Tory leadership contest, every MP’s vote counts.
If Liz Truss beats Ms Mordaunt by a vote in the final stages of the general election, it will be crucial.
Mr Johnson’s decision will only deepen suspicions among some in the Trade Secretary camp that there has been a concerted campaign by the Prime Minister to favor the Foreign Secretary.
On the face of it, it is true that MPs who do not support their own government in a vote of confidence lose the stick because defeat would mean the collapse of the government.
However, Mr Ellwood – the chair of the defense committee – missed the vote because he was on a parliamentary trip to Moldova and Ukraine, and not to consciously avoid supporting Mr Johnson.
It’s no secret that Mr Ellwood is one of the Prime Minister’s harshest critics and was among the first to urge him to resign from Partygate.
However, the Bournemouth East MP was not offered a “slip” – allowing his vote to be paired with an opponent in his absence, unlike 11 other Tory MPs who were also unable to attend but were not penalized.
Tory sources claim Mr Ellwood was warned his slip would be annulled before the vote and therefore cannot be paired.
But mating decisions are in the gift of whips, and allowing some Tories to be mated but not him looks like an attempt to punish Mr Ellwood – for his long-standing opposition to Mr Johnson, but with an added bonus that it’s mrs Mordaunt refuses a vote.
Mr Ellwood insists he has been unable to return to Westminster due to “unprecedented disruption” in both Moldova and the UK due to the heatwave.
The treatment of Mr Ellwood stands in stark contrast to how the Prime Minister and Whips have dealt with Chris Pincher.
It was more than 24 hours before Mr Pincher’s lash – a lesser sanction that was withdrawn – was suspended after allegations of sexual assault surfaced last month.
The Prime Minister moved faster than that to impose a harsher sentence on an MP who had denounced Mr Johnson’s own misconduct.
In any case, Mr Johnson knew he would comfortably win Monday night’s vote – there is no appetite among Conservative MPs for a vote of no confidence because the leadership contest is being fought.
If it were any other prime minister, he could be adjudicated on a case of doubt and his decisions could be made in good faith and at face value.
But given his sacking of Michael Gove earlier this month in revenge for crossing him six years ago, and given that he has been talking in recent days about settling more scores in the months to come, the double standard shows applied to Mr Ellwood that Mr Johnson is clearly vying a vendetta against those he perceives as his enemies.