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19 January 2018

Nick Boles’s tweet spells danger for Theresa May

Danger, Prime Minister. I sense: danger!

By Stephen Bush

You don’t need to be an expert in Westminster’s inner workings to decode Nick Boles’ latest tweet: 

The trouble for Theresa May is that while the public nature of the tweet is new the sentiment is not one that it’s hard to hear from Conservative MPs. There is growing anxiety about Theresa May’s judgement following her botched reshuffle and the thin gruel that has been offered policy-wise.

Boles is very much from the party’s mainstream: he backed Remain but not out of any great love of the European project; rose under David Cameron but isn’t a bitter-ender looking to avenge his lost leader; and, added to that, is respected as a thinker by Conservative MPs.

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It’s very different from previous public eruptions. Yes, there were coup-plotters after May’s poor conference speech. But Ed Vaizey, although well-regarded by the sector as a junior culture minister, has no particular following among Conservative MPs, and is an altogether more committed pro-European, further limiting the appeal of any coup associated with him. Grant Shapps’s stock among Tory MPs is low.

The danger to Downing Street is that Boles adds a vital layer of respectability to open and uncaveated dissent. (It’s not like he’s bothering to pretend that the problem is with the Prime Minister’s advisors or anything like that.) Open insurrection may soon become the norm.