This afternoon, a text message went out to certain Tory MPs telling them that the Prime Minister was going to be in the tearoom from 4 p.m. with the plea ‘please come to support’. This tells us so many things about the mood in the Conservative party at the moment.
The first is that Johnson feels under sufficiently imminent threat to bother going over to the Commons tearoom this afternoon. And he’s right to do so: everyone I have spoken to today, including those who have been Boris loyalists all the way and have been working extremely hard to try to help him recover, say the mood of the party – and their own – has changed significantly in the past 24 hours.
‘This is the worst time I’ve ever had as an MP,’ says one senior backbencher. ‘Everyone is depressed, exhausted and the worst is still to come because even though we have to get rid of him, the last thing our party needs is a leadership contest.’ There are ministers who are considering their position and even drafting resignation letters. There are rumours sweeping the party that junior ministerial aides are planning to resign too.
The second is that Johnson’s team knows there is a core of MPs who it isn’t even worth asking to come to the tearoom. They’ll either laugh at the message or turn up to harangue the Prime Minister and then give hostile briefings to journalists about how it went. The message did not go out to everyone.
One MP who is still loyal says he nonetheless cannot see how Johnson is going to ‘pull it out of the bag now’ and blames the operation around him as much as he does the Prime Minister himself. David Canzini, the deputy chief of staff, was circling in Portcullis House this afternoon and is coming in for a lot of blame about the lack of grip, but so too are the chief of staff Steve Barclay and Johnson’s press chief Guto Harri. There is disappointment among supporters that no one seems to have sat the Prime Minister down in the aftermath of the Pincher resignation and made him slowly go through what he knew when, rather than what is now happening, which is No. 10 repeatedly changing its line as information ‘becomes available’.
This leads us to the third lesson from the tearoom plea, which is that MPs were asked to come and support the PM – as though this was all a performance for the benefit of others watching – rather than the Prime Minister genuinely working the room. What’s the point in working the room when everyone has made up their mind about your future, even if they don’t yet fully know how to get rid of you?
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