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"Shadow Whip" Insiders Start To Believe The Rebellion Against Boris Johnson Has Subsided

4 min read

Conservative MPs backing the Prime Minister are cautiously optimistic they have succeeded in placating rebel rousers plotting to oust their leader.

MPs and insiders involved in the “shadow whipping operation” to shore up support for Boris Johnson amid the ‘partygate’ scandal have told PoliticsHome they are “more and more confident” serious threats to his leadership from within have dampened.

Johnson has met with multiple Tory MPs in the last few days in a bid to shore up his under-pressure leadership ahead of the publication of the Sue Gray report into alleged lockdown parties in Downing Street and after the Met police announced it had decided to investigate the allegations.

Throughout Tuesday and Wednesday Johnson hosted a number of Tory MPs in his Parliamentary office who were wavering in their support of their leader, including several less rebellious MPs that his supporters deemed “surprising” names.

“We feel the support is growing on a daily basis,” a senior Conservative MP involved in the shadow whipping operation told PoliticsHome.

The MP added that “there is a confidence” that 1922 committee chair Sir Graham Brady will not receive the 54 letters required to trigger a no confidence vote in the Conservative party leader.

“It’s relatively calm. There is a confidence that 54 won’t even be hit.

“There’s certainly still a ‘let’s see what the report says’, but there’s a bit of optimism that the Prime Minister… is galvanising people.”

A new survey by Kantar Public, released on Thursday afternoon, shows the Conservative Party has significantly tightened its gap with Labour in the opinion polls.

While polling earlier this month placed the Tory party 15 points behind Keir Starmer’s party, Kantar Public’s latest survey has put Labour at 38% and the Conservatives at 34%.

Another Tory MP staunchly backing his leader told PoliticsHome that “having more time to reflect and other issues (being) more important” has accounted for colleagues shifting their opinion in favour of supporting Johnson.

“I also think that there’s been a massive overreach with the birthday cake story (and) the defection (of former Tory MP Christian Wakeford) last week really had a big impact in terms of the tribal mentality kicking in again too.”

The MP added that many Conservative colleagues were “holding on and waiting for the report”, however “most now are in the position where they are supportive and aren’t expecting it to throw up any issues.”

One senior Tory who disclosed to colleagues last week that they were wavering on sending a letter, this week said they had changed their mind after receiving better than expected feedback from constituents on the partygate issue.

“The mood amongst colleagues is still strong,” a Tory insider close to the shadow whipping operation said.

“The Prime Minister is in good spirits (and) appreciates and recognises people’s frustration.

“(He) wants to knuckle down with (his) agenda, but things are still, in my opinion, relatively okay in here.”

Despite this cautious optimism in the pro-Johnson camp, insiders hoping to see the Prime Minister ousted remain confident partygate is causing enough strife to seriously threaten his leadership.

"A lot of MPs are pissed off, even if they’re not saying it publically," the insider said. 

Earlier today, two Conservative MPs broke ranks to demand that Johnson publish Gray's report in full.

Steve Baker retweeted a post by Mark Harper, who shared a video of a man who lost his mother, father and sister to Covid in the space of three weeks in 2020, and was unable to spend any time with them. "This happened to families up and down our country. That’s why Sue Gray’s report matters," Harper wrote.

Another MP told PoliticsHome they felt Johnson's long term future was far from assured, but that the short-term crisis seemed to be assuaged.

"I guess I dont yet see what the catalyst is to get rid of him, in the absence of something very final and new... something that leads to another 20 letters going in," they said, adding that they didn't "see a route to him leaving, as things stand."

"Of course if [the Gray report or Met contain something new and damning then... that's a different ball game," they added. 

"This still isn't ideal as a big part of me feels like he's too damaged now with the voters," they said.

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