Boris Johnson’s swing to the right after Partygate is further fueling anger among rebel Tory MPs, with momentum now building for a leadership challenge next week.
Tory whips spent the first day of recess anxiously phoning around the parliamentary party to shore up support for the Prime Minister, as four other MPs called on him to step down, including Jeremy Wright, the former attorney general.
Several Tory MPs have told the Guardian they believe the 54-letter threshold withdrawing their support for Johnson is about to be crossed – or may already be. This would trigger a secret ballot on whether they still have confidence in the prime minister.
It is understood that Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 Committee, will have to use his own judgment as to whether to announce the milestone passing immediately if it occurs while Parliament is recessed this week, or wait until Monday, when the House of Commons returns after the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations.
A backbench critic of the Prime Minister said 2019 admissions MPs were ‘gathering the courage’ to send letters by next Monday, but worried about repercussions if No 10 were to identify them after a unsuccessful coup. They said opposition to Johnson was increasingly coordinated and determined to call a vote, with nearly 30 MPs publicly declaring their opposition so far.
In his statement withdrawing his support for the prime minister, Wright said Johnson had caused “real and lasting damage” to the institution of government, and while he could not be sure the prime minister had misled parliament , Johnson had been “careless” at best in the way he approached the matter.
Elliot Colburn, a Tory MP with a narrow majority against the Lib Dems, said he had sent a letter “some time ago”, while Nickie Aiken, the MP for the Cities of London and Westminster whose council is turned Labor this month, called on Johnson to end the situation by issuing a letter of censure to himself. Tory MP Andrew Bridgen also told voters he had resubmitted his letter.
Dismay over Johnson’s premiership is deepening among Tories in so-called ‘Blue Wall’ seats who stand to lose them to the Lib Dems and fringe ‘Red Wall’ where they have a narrow majority on Labor.
With Johnson’s future at stake, the No 10 has begun to launch a number of right-wing nationalist policies in recent weeks. These include the return of Imperial Measures, plans to roll back the Northern Ireland Protocol, a hint at high school expansion, a review of fracking and repeated promises to tear up more EU regulations.
A cabinet minister told the Guardian that Johnson appeared to be trying to prevent the party right from turning against him in the event of a leadership challenge, citing policies such as the review of fracking – which is unpopular on the electoral plan but appeals to a minority in parliament. .
But Tory pollsters and some centrist MPs have warned that this “base vote” direction is the wrong way to go with public confidence in Johnson so low among swing voters. Tobias Ellwood, a former Conservative minister and chairman of the defense committee, warned: “We will lose the next election on the current trajectory, as the recent election shows.
“There is not just a concern over the conduct of No 10’s behavior as it has broken trust with the British people, it is now a question of whether No 10 thinks what our policies are.”
On the policy of weights and measures, he told Sky News: “There will be people in our party who will like this nostalgic policy in the hope that it will be enough to win the next election. But this is not the case. It is not the conservative thinking of a nation that is needed to appeal beyond our base.
A Conservative cabinet source said the Imperial Measures policy was “absolutely bananas”, while another cabinet source said she had “no idea what puppet had this idea” because ” it’s not the government’s overall strategy.”
Another Tory MP said he represented a seat in the ‘heart of central England’ and around half of grassroots Tory voters had lost faith in the Prime Minister.
Some local government leaders have also expressed a lack of confidence in Johnson. Rishi Sunak Local Council leader Carl Les, the Tory leader of North Yorkshire County Council, said he thought it was time for a leadership election, blaming Johnson for heavy losses in local elections .
“I’m very disappointed that the strong majority we had in North Yorkshire has fallen to a working majority, but only barely, and a lot of the feedback we were getting on the doorstep was about the impact of Partygate “, Les said.
The warnings from MPs and advisers have been echoed by pollsters and political strategists, including former No 10 advisers James Johnson and Will Tanner. Both said Johnson was poised to lose the election by swinging to the right instead of focusing on meeting goals on schools, hospitals, housing and the cost of living.
Tanner, a former aide to No 10 and director of the Tory think tank Onward, said: ‘I think while it is understandable that the Prime Minister and Downing Street want to demonstrate their commitment to right-wing political issues, to satisfy some of his backbenchers at a time when clearly the Prime Minister is worried about his future, these issues will not win the Conservative Party in the next election.
He said he had ‘never sat in a focus group or conducted a poll where issues such as Imperial weights and measures or the privatization of Channel 4 were repeatedly raised’ by the voters Johnson is seeking. to enter.
He added: ‘It’s the NHS, immigration, crime, wages, good jobs in my town. These are the fundamentals that the Conservative party needs to focus on, not those pretty small, niche issues that only matter to a few people.
James Johnson, a pollster at JL Partners, who worked for Theresa May,
said: “Some of these things that might have brought smiles in the past will actually invite ridicule, the pounds and ounces thing being
a good example of this. We approach the situation with Johnson similar to the one we encountered with Corbyn, where individual policies might be popular, but the brand attached to them is toxic.