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26 November 2021

Commons Confidential: Johnson’s jokes wear thin for Tories

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

Badly stumbling Boris Johnson’s run of self-inflicted disasters from the sleaze scandal to that Peppa Pig’s ear of a CBI speech on 22 November proved too much for one Tory MP who voted for him as leader back in 2019.

The alienated backbencher whispered to yours truly he’s spoken to Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 committee, and intends shortly to submit a formal private letter demanding a leadership contest. The party’s rules require 55 such letters to trigger a ballot so Johnson, who’s taken to inviting groups of MPs into No 10 for drinks, will hope the first crack doesn’t start an avalanche.

“I thought he was a winner and would get Brexit done but nobody is laughing any more with a lovable clown not up to the job,” grumbled angry of Westminster. Downing Street might come to regret gambling on insurance broker Heather Wheeler to replace Brady last July as head of the 22. The South Derbyshire MP was put into the whips’ office after she lost as Brady survived in an influential post with zero love of Johnson.

It was an open secret that Boris Johnson and Geordie Greig got along terribly so the PM’s likely to have enjoyed the defenestration of his fellow Old Etonian – Greig was chucked out of the Daily Mail editor’s chair by hereditary owner and peer Viscount Rothermere after only three years.

The talk in No 10 is that the relationship was poisonous, with Johnson particularly furious about stories painting his current wife as a spendthrift Carrie Antoinette. I’m told by a well-placed source that Johnson resorted to particularly Anglo Saxon language after one heated clash. No 10 is having none of it and denied the PM uttered certain profanities. “This claim is not true,” said a spokesman.

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That might be a pity when the offensive language could be appreciated by the Mail‘s fearsome returning editor-in-chief Paul Dacre. He’s no Greig fan, or Johnson admirer for the matter, but he’ll dial down criticism of the PM and Darth Dacre’s use of colourful expletives breaks all Fleet Street records.

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Backhanded comfort for Johnson from the same Downing Street source who told the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg there is a lot of concern in the building about the principal’s increasingly bizarre behaviour. “Talking about Peppa Pig isn’t the worst thing in recent years,” mused the No 10 chatty swine, “involving a Prime Minister and a pig.” The tale that David Cameron at Oxford University inserted his penis into the mouth of a dead pig’s head at a Piers Gaveston society initiation ceremony is widely believed to be untrue, however. Johnson losing his mind over an anthropomorphic sow was all too real and witnessed by the electorate.

London mayor Sadiq Khan took what sounded like a pop at Greater Manchester comrade-cum-rival Andy Burnham while delivering the George Lansbury Memorial Lecture, calling out those who pit the north against the south. “I don’t think the way to make a country more equal is to drag down London,” Khan said, in a challenge to Burnham, who’s been wearing a political cloth cap and clogs to walk a whippet as he scratches grievances oop north. Citizen Khan versus the King of the North is a tasty competition in Labour land.

Dominic Raab’s schoolboy error brought the wrath of a jilted legal profession down on the clodhopping In-Justice Secretary. He might have got away with being a no-show at last weekend’s annual bar conference, sending apologies and a video message, had the blundering minister not tweeted a photograph from the important constituency business requiring his urgent attention.

The snap of a grinning Raab C Brexit with a roller-skating woman dressed as a giant Christmas pudding and another as a large red tree bauble in his marginal Esher and Walton constituency transformed the narked barristers into avenging Grinches.

[See also: Commons Confidential: Sunak spies an opportunity]