Why did Tory rebels hold their no-confidence vote before this week’s expected bloodbath at the Wakefield and Tiverton by-elections? It has puzzled Boris watchers. Perhaps they were worried that they might actually have won it if they’d waited.

The trouble with the Tory permabellion is that the rebels still have no credible alternative leader. No thrusting contender, no white knight, not even a half-decent stalking horse. Rishi’s too rich; Hunt too dull; Sajid too flaky; and Liz Truss is, well, Liz Truss. Who else? Ben Wallace?

This is going to be a torrid week for Number 10. And there have been torrid weeks aplenty during Boris Johnson’s mad thrill ride in Number 10. This week would seem to be the perfect moment to chuck him out, except they can’t.

Never has the paucity of leadership talent in British politics been more glaringly apparent.

A tousled-hair loser with a problematic relationship to the truth is still, after all that has happened, on course to lead his party into the next election. And possibly win.

Boris best option?

THAT is what is starting to worry Labour now the partygate row has subsided. An Opinium poll in last week’s Observer suggested that Boris Johnson is still considered a better prime ministerial prospect than the Labour leader by 28 per cent to 26%.

No, I didn’t believe it either. But economic chaos, and even a cost-of-living crisis, doesn’t necessarily translate into support for the left. Remember 1979.

Industrial chaos and public sector unions demanding double-digit pay increases can equally pitch voters to the Tory dark side. Eighty per cent of workers are in the mostly non-union private sector and can’t easily withdraw their labour. Which is why Keir Starmer is desperately trying not to sound like he supports strikes even though he does.

A number of Labour MPs worry, too, that Sir Keir is indeed a lawyer not a leader, as Boris Johnson once described him. Last week, Starmer had to call on shadow cabinet figures to stop saying he’s “boring”. Could you imagine Tony Blair ever having to do that?.

MPs from deputy Angela Rayner down want Starmer to show “more welly”. Potential rivals like pushy Manchester mayor Andy Burnham ask what does Starmer stand for, what’s his vision?

It’s a difficult question to answer because most of what the Labour leader should stand for has been borrowed by Boris Johnson.

Raising taxes to their highest level since 1950, and boosting growth by war-time levels of government borrowing, leaves a moderate social democrat with little left to say on the economy.

Nor is there clear red water on the NHS, the other touchstone policy of the left. Health is scheduled to consume 44% of all UK public service current spending by 2024, according to the IFS.

Boris Johnson’s commitment to 100% carbon-free electricity by 2035 is as ambitiously green as anything Labour has come up with.

Backbench anger

THE PM infuriated many Tory backbenchers by imposing a windfall tax on energy companies – a blatant rip-off from Labour.

But perhaps Labour just need to hold their nerve because Johnson’s brand of big-spending green Toryism has just about reached its limits. It is an anomaly and hugely expensive. Britain is now stuck in a low-growth, high-taxation, inflationary spiral of decline, with little scope either for tax cuts or more spending.

Hard Brexiters, like Lord Frost and Steve Baker of the European Research Group (ERG), would have gone along with the Johnson agenda had Brexit worked.

But it hasn’t. Project Fear has come true as trade and the pound have tanked. Tory backbenchers were quite keen on the idea of giving working families some material reward for leaving the EU. Higher wages, more jobs, less immigration.

They wanted to show that the NHS could be improved by spending the £300 million a week that supposedly went to Brussels.

Brexiters also believed that free trade, and things like freeing up gene-edited crops, would rapidly cut the cost of living after Britain had left the protectionist club of the EU. The reverse has happened.

Inflation is heading for 11% and the OECD forecasts that British growth has stalled to a dead halt. Rather, it has confirmed that leaving the single market was an exercise in national self-harm.

As many of us expected, the EU has been ruthlessly single-minded in imposing bureaucratic non-tariff barriers on UK goods. Lorries travelling to Northern Ireland have to fill in 70 voluminous forms, even though the province is part of the UK.

Brussels could, of course, make the Irish protocol more manageable given goodwill. But Brussels is not in the business of goodwill to Boris Johnson, who they regard as a right-wing nationalist.

Eurocrats are determined to show that leaving the EU was a mistake. They see the crisis in the Tory Party as vindication of their strategy of “punishing bad behaviour” as the Remain-supporting former Tory minister David Gauke put it last week. Britain is on the naughty step for the duration.

So, the Boris psychodrama continues as the Conservative Party descends into Brexit derangement syndrome – a terminal condition evidenced by a lack of coherent vision at a time of national crisis.

Johnson’s enemies are now not only the diehard Remainers, but also radical Leavers, in despair about making Brexit work. Dominic Cummings is still playing The Joker. The result will be a summer of Tory discontent as Boris Johnson tries to please everybody and ends up pleasing nobody.

Scrap ‘green crap’?

AT any rate, it looks like the end of the liberal, big-spending phase of Johnson’s Government. The right demand tax cuts, the Northern Ireland protocol gutted, and net-zero climate targets scrapped. Number 10 is trying to appease them by scrapping “green crap” like rewilding, pushing through the NI Bill, sending boat people to Rwanda, and scrapping the Human Rights Act.

Johnson’s circle were jubilant when a judge on the European Court of Human Rights blocked the first flight of illegal asylum seekers to Rwanda. It distracted attention from the awkward reality that immigration to the UK is higher than ever despite Brexit.

The ostensible reason for scrapping rewilding is that the UK needs land for crops and food security following the Russian seizure of Ukrainian grain. But perhaps surprisingly, Britain is actually self-sufficient in many foods – including wheat, oats and barley.

Nor would National Insurance tax cuts make much difference to the cost-of-living crisis as the right appears to believe. The most obvious solution to the UK’s trade blockade might be to use the Ukraine crisis as cover to discretely rejoin the EU single market, as advised by the Tory MP Tobias Ellwood. That isnt going to happen.

The Brexit right wanted Britain to become a low-tax, low-regulation entrepôt to undercut the EU and boost exports. A plausible economic plan, perhaps, but not one for Boris Johnson.

The PM is an English nationalist, but he is also part of the liberal tradition of British Conservatism in a line that comes from Disraeli through Harold Macmillan to Carrie Johnson.

Environmentalism is a key part of Johnson’s neo-Keynesian economics. Singapore-on-Thames is not.