Christopher Pincher, the government deputy chief whip until Thursday last week, has resigned following allegations that he groped two men at the Carlton Club in central London. Pincher becomes the fifth Tory MP to be disgraced by a sex-related scandal since April. A Tory party source has privately offered a reaction to the papers: “The PM thinks he’s done the decent thing by resigning. There is no need for an investigation and no need to suspend the whip.”
Pincher has resigned once before as a whip, in 2017, over allegations that he made an unwanted pass at the Conservative activist Alex Story. He was nevertheless made deputy chief whip thereafter by Theresa May in 2018. He was reappointed to the position by Boris Johnson in February: although the Prime Minister initially intended to make him chief whip, he was forced to make him deputy after “colleagues found out and pushed back”, a Tory MP tells me. It has now been revealed, according to a formal letter from Simon McDonald, that the PM was briefed in person about a 2019 complaint of alleged groping – and yet he still made Pincher deputy chief whip.
Why? MPs point to Pincher’s central role in “Operation Big Dog”, the bid to save Johnson at the start of this year after partygate broke out. “All the nastiness towards colleagues,” says an MP, “came from him.” Having been intimately involved in the coercion of colleagues to stick with Johnson, Pincher is now – some MPs feel – being protected by the Prime Minister. “He is being treated in a much more lenient way because of his loyalty to the PM,” says one.
Johnson, like Trump, has a long record of rewarding the loyal, whatever their level of competence or conduct. The problem for the Prime Minister is that this tendency alienates more MPs than it keeps on side, and Johnson is now in a perpetual fight for the support of his backbenchers (a reality he refuses to recognise). In the next few weeks the 1922 Committee will hold elections to its executive, and a “rebel slate” of candidates is likely to be elected, as we first reported on the night of last month’s no-confidence vote against Johnson. That rebel majority will then be in a position to change the rules that currently prevent another no-confidence vote within a year.
One senior Tory MP I spoke to this week, who is not given to agitating publicly or speaking loosely, thinks those rules will be changed around the time of the Conservative Party conference in October, and that Johnson will face another vote – and be voted out by his MPs – by Christmas. Johnson’s handling of his party’s latest sex scandal is only serving to make that prediction more likely.
[See also: Is this the end for Boris Johnson?]