Downing Street has been forced to deny rumours that Boris Johnson has lost control of his party as multiple Tory MPs claim that letters of no confidence in their leader have been filed.
A Conservative whip told The Telegraph that “the rumour is persistently around” that some MPs had already submitted letters to the 1922 Committee. If 15% of sitting Tory lawmakers hand such letters to the committee of Tory backbenchers, a leadership contest is triggered.
The unnamed whip predicted that “it will not get anywhere near the 50 letters you would need”, but added that “it does cause angst.”
And a second MP told the paper that “if the next month is like the last month, and horror stories continue, more letters will be submitted”.
Disorder in the ranks
Johnson’s “rambling appearance” this week in front of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has got many on the Conservative backbenchers “querying exactly what is going on in Downing Street at the moment”, said the BBC‘s political editor Laura Kuenssberg.
“Everyone can have a bad day at the office, of course,” she added. But “there is a tribe of Conservative MPs not angry enough to beat its political masters, but disappointed enough to withhold full support”.
The prime minister’s problems have escalated since his intervention in the Owen Paterson lobbying case, which triggered a string of sleaze allegations that have dogged his party for weeks.
His efforts to put that scandal to bed have met with disruption from two fronts: from backbenchers who are concerned he could stop all second jobs, depriving them of additional income, and from Tory MP Christopher Chope, who blocked an attempted government U-turn on Paterson in the Commons.
But Johnson’s wider “problems are centred around 10 Downing Street, his cabinet and Parliament”, said The Telegraph’s chief political correspondent Christopher Hope.
For months, his allies in No. 10 have been raising concerns about “a lack of a senior adviser after the departures in the past year of Dominic Cummings, his chief adviser, Lee Cain, his director of communications, and Lord Udny-Lister, his chief of staff”.
The ousting of a string of his closest confidants has “led MPs to fear the wheels have come off the Downing Street machine”, Hope continued. Although “good at their jobs, the new coterie are not as close to Johnson as their predecessors”.
The PM is said to be “well aware of the inexperience of some of those working with him”. But “the gaps are all too clear”. A senior Tory MP told the paper that Johnson “needs a few more adults in the room”.
Following this week’s Peppa Pig debacle at the CBI’s annual conference, ex-ministers have called on Johnson to introduce a “big hitter” into his inner circle, “such as Australian elections guru Lynton Crosby”, in order “to sharpen up his top team after weeks of problems”, the Daily Mail reported.
Fears that “political misjudgements, U-turns and ill-discipline” are “eating away at the party’s reputation for competence” have been heightened by “a brutal briefing” given by an insider source to the BBC’s Kuenssberg following Johnson’s CBI address, the paper continued.
Fingers have reportedly been pointed at Liam Booth-Smith, a close advisor to Chancellor Rishi Sunak, for the “incendiary” comments. Former think-tank boss Booth-Smith “affects the same scruffy look as Dominic Cummings and is said to share at least some of his criticisms of Johnson”.
‘It’s just not working’
Johnson last night “sought to love-bomb Conservative MPs”, inviting all those elected in the 2015 and 2017 elections to a party at No. 10 in an effort “to shore up their loyalty”, according to the i news site’s political editor Hugo Gye.
A source close to the PM said the event was a “routine engagement”. But Gye argued that Johnson had clearly chosen to invite a group of MPs that are “seen as crucial to the government’s support”.
The group of around 75 MPs invited to Downing Street are “more experienced than the 2019 ‘Red Wall’ intake”, he wrote, “but still keen for ministerial office unlike ageing party veterans”.
Some Downing Street insiders are “urging cabinet ministers to insist on improvements”, the BBC’s Kuenssberg reported, after her mystery source told her that “there is a lot of concern in the building… it’s just not working”.
Although Johnson’s “political style does not rely on things always going smoothly”, Kuenssberg added, his “list of problems seems only to grow”, while “his party’s faith in his power to fix them seems to be going the other way”.
A major issue “is finding someone of sufficient calibre who Johnson can trust”, said The Telegraph’s Hope. Such people “are thin on the ground for a PM who always cut a solitary figure on the back benches” yet “needs all the help he can get”.
But Johnson, “who bestrides the Conservative Party and his government like a medieval monarch”, does still “have the power to put things right”, Hope added.
“The question is whether he can bring himself to ask for help.”