ANDREW PIERCE: What on earth do the Tory rebels think they are doing? This is an outburst of madness that could hand Keir Starmer keys to No. 10
Even as treacherous Tory MPs demanded the scalp of Boris Johnson in the Commons last week, the mood in No 10 was upbeat.
Focus groups of floating voters had indicated in the previous days that Partygate was fading as an issue.
There was also growing support for the Rwanda plan to process ‘off-shore’ the claims of asylum seekers who have crossed the Channel illegally.
And even though Labour was averaging an 8 per cent lead in the polls, the party’s leader Sir Keir Starmer was making no impact with those floating voters.
Focus groups of floating voters had indicated in the previous days that Partygate was fading as an issue
Yesterday a poll found that lead had fallen to just 2 per cent, while Tory canvassers were reporting back to No 10 that Party-gate was not a big issue on the doorstep when they were campaigning for the local elections on May 5.
And yet in defiance of this positive news for the Conservatives, it has emerged that 46 Tory MPs have sent letters calling for a vote of no confidence in Mr Johnson’s leadership to Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the backbench Conservative 1922 Committee.
That’s just eight letters short of the number needed to trigger the vote.
Panic is in the air. The rebels have post-dated their letters for after the local elections, fearing a bloodbath. But they are conveniently forgetting that incumbent parties rarely do well in mid-term elections, while the majority of seats up for grabs are in strong Labour-held areas anyway.
In Downing Street, there is not just exasperation but genuine anger with the rebels – including former Brexit minister Steve Baker who was backing Boris on Tuesday but twisting the knife in his leader by Thursday. What on earth do they think they are doing? Should they even get the requisite 54 letters, at least 50 per cent of Tory MPs will then have to vote against Boris to force a change of leader.
And even though Labour was averaging an 8 per cent lead in the polls, the party’s leader Sir Keir Starmer was making no impact with those floating voters
Boris will win a confidence vote, and even if the win is only by a handful of votes, he’s going nowhere. All the rebels will have done is paralyse the Government during a national and international crisis.
At the very time they should be united, some sections of the Tory party seem to be beset by a kind of madness.
The Government has undoubtedly made mistakes, not least the Whips’ Office’s appallingly clumsy handling of last week’s attempt – abandoned at the last minute – to delay a vote on whether the PM should be investigated over Partygate by a Commons committee. But Boris has apologised for Partygate – no fewer than 35 times in the Commons on Tuesday – and shown genuine remorse. To get rid of the leader who secured the Tories their biggest majority for decades, simply because he happened to be present at an impromptu birthday gathering for less than ten minutes, would be absurd.
Boris may be infuriating, shambolic and economical with the truth on occasions, but it is only Boris who can hold the vital Red Wall seats where so many Labour loyalists voted Tory for the first time in 2019.
The voters there knew instinctively that no other politician could steam-roller Brexit through the way he did.
They will surely recognise, too, that on all the big decisions he has been right so far.
The vaccine roll-out was an extraordinary triumph which led the world. Could anyone seriously imagine Sir Keir Starmer turning down an invitation from the EU to join its disastrous vaccine roll-out as Boris did? Britain’s emergence from Covid restrictions was faster and better handled than in most countries. He defied the doom-mongers to get the economy going again.
On Ukraine, his leadership has been exemplary. He is President Zelensky’s favourite European leader, and has shown mature resolve and gumption, ensuring that the UK was sending military help long before other countries. And in any case, however many of the rebels fantasise about a post-Boris future, there is simply no heir apparent in the Conservative Party.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak was the runaway favourite, but his fall from grace has been swift after he misjudged mini-Budget, the revelations about his US green card status, and his tetchy response to legitimate questions about his wife’s non-dom tax status.
Other wannabe leaders include former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt whose acolytes were on manoeuvres in the Commons last week. An arch Remainer, he conspired with Theresa May to try to impose her deal – a fake Brexit – on Britain.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss fancies her chances but she is a charisma-free zone and simply does not have what it takes to be prime minister.
The plotters should be careful what they wish for. Without the Red Wall, the Tories will not win the next election. And waiting in the wings is Sir Keir Starmer, a man who tried to subvert democracy by overturning Brexit, and who campaigned for Jeremy Corbyn to be prime minister. He is furthermore a man who refuses to say if he thinks a woman can have a penis and who leads a party with zero economic credibility.
The latest poll shows Boris’s approval ratings rising again. Tory MPs should get behind him and remember that guerrilla warfare against John Major by Tory malcontents in the last years of his government contributed to the Tony Blair landslide 25 years ago this week, pushing the Tories out of power for 13 years.
If ever there was a time for Tory MPs to hold their nerve, it is now.
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