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15 December 2021

Commons Confidential: The Tories’ poison pens

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

Isolating from his party, Boris Johnson cut a forlorn, socially distanced figure in the lobby for the final Covid vote at the end of last night’s mauling from revolting Tories. One MP said the Prime Minister looked dazed and the praetorian guard of sycophants who usually surround him had melted away. Short of dragging Graham Brady to the Tower of London and stretching him on the rack to extract a confession, Downing Street will receive zero assistance about no-confidence letters from the chair of the 1922 committee it tried and failed to replace. So the Tory whips are guesstimating and my snout with access to the little black book whispers the working assumption is that 10 MPs have now formally submitted written requests for a confidence vote to topple the PM. Should the Conservatives lose their North Shropshire citadel on 16 December, another dozen letters are expected to be submitted. Still less than half of the required 54, yet the thumping rebellion over Covid rules suggests others may also lose patience with stumbling Boris Johnson. Tick-tock.

Hats off to Tory newbie in Old Bexley and Sidcup, Louie French, for a maiden revolt before his maiden speech. Having been in the House of Commons for less than a fortnight, the by-election victor is destined to become a pub quiz question in nerdier boozers.

The Tories’ ill-fated “Crime Week” underlined tactical incompetence in the PM’s operation after the government spent most of the time denying evidence that Downing Street was a den of lockdown-breaking partying offenders. My informant in a building where the dress code last December was tinsel, reindeer antlers and Santa hats grumbled that political loyalists and civil servants are so beleaguered they’ve lost the ability to think on their feet. “When the week was conceived, we never thought the criminal in the dock would be the Prime Minister with the public baying for punishment,” whimpered the source, “because Labour was supposed to be prosecuted, not us.” We can look forward to the campaign to Free the Downing Street One and have Johnson adopted by Amnesty as a prisoner of conscience.

The levelling-up priority for the government is the PM’s poll ratings after recent plunges. Come the new year a cunning plan is being hatched to breathe fresh life into Johnson. The word’s gone out to call it a refresh, rebrand, reset – anything beginning with “re” except relaunch. Michael Gove’s withdrawn plan to erect a couple of bus stops in northern England will be the initial vehicle. But Johnson’s a dangerous driver of late – confessing that he crashed the car on sleaze then repeatedly reversed into the ditch over Christmas parties. Many more accidents and he might lose his licence.

Rebellious Tory trouble-maker David Davis adopts the Suffragette approach to politics, believing actions speak louder than words. Ticked off by a whip in the tea room for eviscerating Doom Secretary Priti Patel’s expensively inhuman proposals to offshore asylum seekers and migrants as far away from Britain as possible, DD didn’t answer back. Instead he deliberately missed the next vote.

The Daily Mail urges the country to carry on as normal yet the list of parties culled for Covid now includes Lord Rothermere’s Christmas soiree for 800 guests, including Johnson, which was booked for Claridge’s on Monday 13 December. Do as we write, not as he didn’t? 

To the GB News studio in London’s trendy Paddington basin. The toilets at the anti-woke, culture war channel are… unisex. One male guest was warned “be careful, there might be a lady in there” as he approached the door. Poor presenter Nigel Farage must cross his legs until the safety of a urinal in a gentlemen’s club.

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