Just 31 months ago Boris Johnson took the Tories to their biggest election triumph for 32 years.
Within weeks, the UK had left the EU, smashing the deadlock which had paralysed politics since the June 2016 referendum.
Yet two-and-a-half years after his historic December 2019 victory, so many MPs have turned their backs on Johnson that he faced a humiliating confidence vote.
How did the best political campaigner of his generation lose the support of so many of the constituents he needed most – his own MPs?
Johnson had been the Tory grassroots’ darling for more than a decade before he spearheaded the Vote Leave crusade.
POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Critics accused him of cynical opportunism, knowing that leading the Out fight would curry favour with Conservative activists who could propel him to No10.
It worked. On July 23, 2019 he won the Tory leadership race, trouncing Jeremy Hunt by scooping two-thirds of ballots.
The next day he became the Queen’s 14th Prime Minister.
Backed by top aide Dominic Cummings, Johnson immediately alienated swathes of the parliamentary party with his confrontational approach, sacking ministers he deemed Remainers.
The decision to illegally prorogue Parliament, embarrassing the Queen, stunned Tories proud of the party’s respect for Britain’s laws and traditions.
Eventually Johnson plotted a path to the general election he craved.
When the exit poll landed at 10pm on December 12, 2019, it was clear he was indeed the “Heineken Tory”, reaching parts of the country others could not.
Nearly 14 million people voted Conservative, with the party winning 43.6% of vote share and 365 seats – a net gain of 47.
Labour’s Red Wall was demolished, with Tory candidates seizing seats in the Midlands and North.
Humiliated, Corbyn quit while Johnson had complete control over his party and delighted in predictions he would wield power for a decade.
But the rot quickly set in.
Four months after his election triumph, he locked down the country as the coronavirus pandemic took hold – angering liberterian Conservatives.
The strictest peacetime curbs ever imposed on Britons’ freedoms stopped us going out more than once a day for exercise or to buy food.
Other MPs were furious he waited so long, allowing Covid-19 to rampage unchecked.
Care home residents were sent from hospitals back to care homes without being tested for the virus.
An estimated 20,000 died. Johnson himself was struck down with Covid.
Isolating in the Downing Street flat, his condition deteriorated, he was admitted to hospital and later to intensive care.
He almost died. While he lay in his hospital bed, his approval ratings hit record highs, with 66% of voters saying he was doing well as PM.
But as the rest of us were shut in our homes, frightened of the disease and unable to see loved ones, lockdown-busting parties were taking place in Downing Street – events that when the Mirror began to expose them 18 months later would usher the PM’s grip on office to the brink .
Johnson had already spent political capital protecting his acolyte Cummings when the Mirror told how he drove to County Durham during lockdown – and also went on a day trip to Barnard Castle.
Tories in tune with the public mood were disgusted; Cummings held Conservative MPs in contempt yet he was being saved by his boss.
Voters were outraged. Six months later, Cummings was gone anyway after losing a bitter No10 power struggle.
His exit unleashed a dangerous, vicious enemy, dedicated to toppling the Tory chief.
Johnson’s supporters tried to discredit Cummings, dismissing him as a disgruntled ex-employee.
While true, the characterisation failed to understand the zeal, passion and power driving Cummings, who will stop at nothing to oust the man he dubs the “shopping trolley” for veering all over the place.
Meanwhile, Brexit, which the PM had claimed to have “got done”, rumbled along in the background.
The Northern Ireland Protocol – agreed by Johnson in summer 2019 to prevent a hard border with the Republic – created different rules for trade within the UK and effectively drew a border down the Irish Sea.
The leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party had jeopardised that very Union – leaving Tory MPs for whom it is sacrosanct apoplectic.
To compound the situation, the Government has spent months threatening to rip it up.
The lack of respect for an international agreement – negotiated and signed by the PM himself – outraged MPs for whom honour, trust and integrity are central.
Each time he found himself in a corner, Johnson would announce another spending pledge, sparking clashes with his Chancellor and worrying MPs mindful of the Tories’ reputation for economic management.
Some £400billion was spent during the pandemic, including billions on PPE deals.
Contracts were signed with Tory cronies, fuelling sleaze claims.
Details of specific deals are still being uncovered and could be unpicked in the courts.
But we know vast amounts of taxpayers’ cash were shovelled to businesses with Tory links, sometimes for faulty gear.
Tories who prioritise standards, probity and ethical behaviour were horrified – as they were about allegations over the funding for a £58,000 refurbishment of the Downing Street flat.
To pile on the sleaze accusations, the PM tried to block a 30-day suspension of MP Owen Paterson after a standards probe.
Paterson later quit and the Lib Dems promptly won the safe Tory seat of North Shropshire – striking fear into Conservatives with even big majorities after the party previously lost the Bucks constituency of Chesham and Amersham to the Lib Dems.
Another wing of the party – those who have served in the military – was alienated with the shambolic withdrawal from Afghanistan in August.
The PM still faces claims, which he denies, that he or those acting on his behalf intervened to evacuate dogs from Kabul while Afghans who served with British troops were left behind.
International affairs have given the PM a boost when it comes to war in Ukraine.
He won widespread praise for leading Western support for Kyiv and being quick to arm defenders.
But plans to send Channel migrants to Rwanda were seen as setting dividing lines with Labour and charities rather than a realistic solution to crossings.
One Nation Tories in southern seats fear the policy undermines Conservative claims to compassion and liberalism.
Yet it is domestic issues that drained support from the Premier.
Partygate revelations of boozy Downing Street bashes and the lingering suspicion Johnson was only sorry he got caught have inflicted huge damage on the Tory brand.
Lockdown measures were largely accepted because we were all in it together.
It is painfully obvious we were not – and the public feel they were taken for fools.
By early January this year, after a slew of allegations of parties, 73% of people thought Johnson was doing badly as PM.
The cost-of-living crisis has exacerbated the Government’s woes, with a feeling it cannot control events.
One Nation Tories want more help for the worst off while fiscal hawks baulk at the money already committed.
Disparate party factions, each withdrawing backing for very different motives, are united by their desire to force out Johnson,
The PM who punched the air with delight at 10pm on December 12, 2019, is no longer in control of his destiny.