Moments after the vote of confidence on British Prime Minister Boris Johnson results were announced live on CNN, MP David Lammy (Labor) listed results of previous (recent) votes of confidence saying this was worse, then said:

So this is a staggering amount of people. If you think about Boris Johnson has a hundred and sixty MPs on his payroll anyway who were going to vote for him because they're within the government, he's done very very poorly.

What does this mean? Are there MPs not in government? Which group numbers 160 and why would all of their votes be so absolutely certain?

Soon after that Lammy lists Johnson's problems and I think says:

...and a large amount of his MPs don't trust him.

If I've got that correct, then it seems contradictory to the 160 MPs being on Johnson's "payroll".

2 Answers 2


The "payroll" refers to MPs who hold roles in the government, i.e. government ministers, parliamentary private secretaries (PPS), whips or in some way dependent on the PM's patronage. These people may be at risk of losing their jobs in the government if there is a change of leader.

From the House of Commons website:

There is no formal definition of the payroll vote. It is generally considered to refer to all those who hold a role in the administration, whether paid or unpaid. This includes senior roles, as well as more junior roles including parliamentary private secretaries (PPSs). The proportion of Members of the House of Commons who have been part of the payroll vote varied from 19-22% between 1979 and 2017.

Not being on the "payroll" simply means one is a backbencher MP.

The breakdown of the payroll vote is as follows, according to the Institute for Government. Keep in mind that not all on the payroll are paid. PPS and a small number of ministers are unpaid.

The current payroll vote is between 160 and 170 MPs, consisting of:

95 ministers (including whips) in the House of Commons
47 parliamentary private secretaries (assuming all those who also serve on the Privileges Committee have resigned their PPS role to be able to investigate the prime minister)
20 Conservative MP trade envoys
an unknown number of party vice-chairs.

PA News (via The Guardian) explains the significance of the payroll vote in this vote of confidence.

As many as four in five of the MPs who backed Boris Johnson in the confidence vote may have been on the so-called government “payroll”.

Between 160 and 170 MPs currently hold government roles, such as ministers and parliamentary private secretaries, according to analysis by the Institute for Government.

It would be hoped by Downing Street that all of these MPs would have backed Johnson in the confidence vote.

Were this the case, around 80% of the 211 MPs who voted for the prime minister in Monday’s ballot could be said to have done so chiefly out of duty rather than loyalty.

The rest of the 211 MPs who said they had confidence in Johnson will have been backbench MPs who are not on the payroll.

But with as many as 170 payroll votes supporting the prime minister, the figures suggest only a few dozen non-payroll votes also voted in favour, implying that Johnson has lost the confidence of the majority of the Conservative backbenchers.


Thanks to @SteveMelnikoff for pointing out that the 116 ministers previously cited includes those sitting in the House of Lords. This answer has been updated to better reflect the breakdown of the payroll vote.

  • 3
    "116 government ministers" Sounds like a lot. Not only because that is probably not very efficient but also because it creates the mentioned dependence here. Jun 7, 2022 at 6:12
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    It is a lot. Officially it is capped at 109 paid roles. So a number of these are job titles without financial reward. instituteforgovernment.org.uk/explainers/government-ministers
    – Jontia
    Jun 7, 2022 at 6:47
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    @SirHawrk: note that (a) the number of UK cabinet ministers is currently 23, plus 8 more ministers who also attend at the PM's invitation; (b) Germany is a federation, while the UK isn't...quite, which may make a difference. Meanwhile, in terms of political appointees at all levels, the UK is dwarfed by the US, which has 2000+ such posts. Jun 7, 2022 at 9:33
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    @SirHawrk context is difficult, since terms don't mean the same thing across different systems in different countries. In the UK "minister" is a catch-all across multiple levels (of seniority, salary and competence).
    – origimbo
    Jun 7, 2022 at 11:25
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    Perhaps it is worth clarifying that 'unpaid' here means 'not paid extra beyond the basic salary received by all MPs'
    – avid
    Jun 7, 2022 at 18:13

It means that David Lammy either misunderstands, or is choosing to misrepresent, or probably both, the https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Payroll_vote

The payroll vote consists of around 60 unpaid PPSes and unpaid ministers and around 109 paid ministers.

These people all share https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cabinet_collective_responsibility

Which means they must vote for the government in votes in Parliament and otherwise support its agenda or resign.

The motion of no confidence is however an internal Conservative party matter. The rules required 15% (54 MPs) to write letters to the chairman of the party's 1922 committee, and subsequently there is a secret ballot in which the motion (that there is no confidence in Johnson's leadership of the party) requires 50% of MPs to support it.

It should be recalled that these motions occur in opposition as well as government, as with the vote against Iain Duncan Smith.

Since there is a secret ballot, Lammy's statement simply is not based in fact. Whether Lammy himself knows this is not clear.

What is probably true is that anyone who has CHOSEN to publicly speak out against Johnson will not be on the payroll, but this only amounts to around 30 MPs


148 voted against Johnson, there is no reason why some would not be ministers, even cabinet ministers. https://inews.co.uk/news/politics/leadershp-vote-cabinet-ministers-against-boris-johnson-secret-ballot-mps-1663381

Any Tory MP who believes the party would be better with a different leader might choose to vote against Johnson, especially those in marginal seats.

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    Even if the roles are unpaid, they are valuable exposure for junior MPs. They are certainly perks to lose and the payroll term is common across government and media. It is not a misrepresentation by Lammy.
    – Jontia
    Jun 7, 2022 at 9:14
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    There almost certainly are ministers willing to vote against the leader in the hopes of getting the top job, but it is a certainly reasonable to point out that all those people's jobs are granted to them by the man who is being subjected to a confidence vote.
    – Jontia
    Jun 7, 2022 at 9:17
  • @Jontia that wasn't the point I was making at all. Whether they are paid or not, there is a long list of MPs who will no longer be MPs at all if the party loses the next election. And your claim that their jobs are subject to Johnson is misleading. Johnson had a reshuffle in 2020 after winning the general election. There is not an infinite supply of MPs who want to become ministers or are suitable. A current PPS might believe they will be promoted with a new PM. This is an anonymous vote and it makes zero sense to vote for Johson as a PPS in a marginal seat who believes he is a liability
    – thelawnet
    Jun 7, 2022 at 9:43
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    I downvoted because while I agree that Lammy's statement is misleading ("a hundred and sixty MPs on his payroll anyway who were going to vote for him" implies that all would vote in his favour; clearly an exaggeration), this answer goes too far to the other extreme by implying (although not explicitly stating) that anonymity protects job security for those voting against. The truth is somewhere in between: by voting Johnson out, there is a real and significant risk that a minister will lose their job in the subsequent PM's first reshuffle. It's by no means a straightforward decision.
    – JBentley
    Jun 7, 2022 at 13:21
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    For example, if we imagine a hypothetical minister who believes that the odds of winning the next election are lessened or not materially affected by replacing Boris then their best bet is to vote to maintain the status quo. On the other hand, if they believe the odds are increased they still have to balance that with the risk of losing their job in a reshuffle. The overall bias is shifted towards erring on the side of caution.
    – JBentley
    Jun 7, 2022 at 13:23

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