Boris Johnson vs the red wall MPs

19 January 2022

5:10 AM

19 January 2022

5:10 AM

Is anger dying down among Conservative MPs over ‘partygate’? That was the suggestion overnight. But in the House of Commons today the opposite appears to be happening: MPs from the 2019 intake have been accused of plotting to oust Boris Johnson. One minister told the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg, a ‘pork pie plot’ is underway with Alicia Kearns — the MP for Rutland and Melton — among those who met today to discuss submitting letters (while Kearns’s seat is not a red wall MP, many of the MPs involved are).

In response, Kearns has denied she is leading a rebellion. 2019 MPs are playing down talk of an official meeting and instead say various informal meetings are occurring organically. Organic or not, they are causing alarm in the Whips’ Office. The whips have been calling people in today and are attempting to shut down disloyal behaviour by calling out those they suspect to be involved.

However, as a strategy it is high risk. The briefings over the so-called pork pie plot have gone down like a cup of cold sick with many of the 2019 intake. One of the reasons it’s so hard to predict when a no confidence vote could take place — triggered by 54 letters of no confidence — is that this flock are rather independent-minded. 2019 MPs are the ones whips expect of having submitted the most letters so far to Graham Brady, the chair of the 1922 committee.

In one way, this is surprising. These MPs — particularly those in red wall seats — had credited their success more to Boris Johnson personally than the Conservative brand. Ministers and government aides believe the red wall MPs ought to be more loyal to Johnson and, as a result, are criticising their behaviour. Yet this group are much harder to control than previous intakes. Insulting them – as one minister has by saying ‘most of them are a load of fucking nobodies’ – only pushes this group further away. Many never expected to be elected and are less fussed about climbing the ladder of high office.

Others are also acutely aware of the small majorities they hold, meaning they can get spooked more easily. Their concern now is that Johnson has gone from being an electoral asset to a liability and that even now his supporters do not grasp the seriousness of the situation which one describes as a ‘sh– show’. Several of these MPs report that the feedback they received from constituents over the weekend was dire.

Adding to Johnson’s woes this evening is the fact that his first public outing since his self-imposed Covid isolation ended went badly. Johnson’s claim in an interview that no one told him the drinks party he attended broke Covid rules has led to widespread mockery. For all the talk of a ‘pork pie plot’, the big issue for Johnson is that there is more than one conversation taking place in parliament today over his future. While there is much uncertainty over the number of letters in, one member of the 2019 intake tells Coffee House they would not be surprised if the letter threshold was met this week.

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