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Tory Insiders Criticise "Unfair" Attacks On Chief Whip After Claims He's Set To Be Replaced

Chief whip Mark Spencer is rumoured to be replaced this week as part of the Downing Street reset.

4 min read

Several Tories are rallying behind chief whip Mark Spencer after numerous reports surfaced that he was set to be replaced as part of the Downing Street reset to save the Prime Minister.

Senior party figures including Johnson loyalist and cabinet office minister Nigel Adams, and home secretary Priti Patel were mooted over the weekend to be in the running to replace Spencer, who has been at the helm of the government's whipping operation since 2019. 

One Tory insider said Spencer's reputation has been left "in tatters" after a string of Commons rebellions, and fallout from gatherings held at Downing Street during lockdown that led some Conservatives to hand in letters of no confidence to the 1922 committee of backbench MPs.  

But party sources have told PoliticsHome they believe that Spencer has been unfairly targeted in the attempt to create a new team around the Prime Minister after a tumultuous few months.

“The problem with the current administration is not Mark Spencer, it’s Boris Johnson. Anyone who thinks otherwise is kidding themselves,” a former Conservative chief whip said.

The expectation now is that Spencer will be replaced this week, with some questioning why it hasn't already happened.

"Any government chief whip has to have the confidence that their Prime Minister will listen to them and will refrain from taking any decisions that are unsound," the former chief whip continued. 

“The problem Mark Spencer has had is that his Prime Minister has done neither of those things and has instead chosen to unfairly blame Spencer and the Whips’ Office for his own misjudgements on the Owen Paterson debacle, Covid votes and other matters such as the tone deaf handling of the ongoing partygate scandal."

One Tory insider said Spencer had been "a good chief" and they were unsure exactly what a new chief whip would be able to do differently. 

"If the Prime Minister can convince people that he's got his act together, then MPs could fall back into line anyway," they said.

The insider noted that Spencer had been responsible for enforcing a number of ideas and policies that were highly unpopular with Tories. 

"That's not the problem of whipping if you're sent out with stuff that's difficult to sell," they said. 

Adams, a clear front runner for the job being discussed in Westminster today, has been a long-time supporter of the Prime Minister, ever since his first attempt at the party leadership in June 2016. 

Friends describe the Selby and Ainsty MP as a staunch "loyalist" and a good behind-the-scenes operator with a low profile. He is also part of the emergency shadow whipping operation run in conjunction with Conor Burns, Northern Ireland minister, and levelling up minister Chris Pincher, who have spent the last few weeks shoring up support for the beleaguered Prime Minister. 

One Tory source said: "I don't know if any of the shadow operation are up to the challenge of being chief whip. The job is a lot more than pressing the flesh and chatting to the media. 

"I'm a huge fan of the current chief. I think Number 10 have used him as a dumping ground and he's been badly let down by them. But I do understand we're having a reset and things need to change."

They said whipping should be done in private, and with the shadow operation, attempts to bolster support for Johnson and get the letters to the 1922 committee withdrawn were well known.

Former party chairman Amanda Milling's name has also been touted as a possible replacement for chief whip today among Tories, as she has good links to the 2019 intake, touring all of the newly won constituencies after the last general election. 

One government source believed Patel would also command respect among the 2019 intake.

"They'd look up to her. She's forthright and loyal to the boss," they said. 

But they also questioned the logic of removing Spencer: "It's been briefed out that Spencer is going to go, but I feel like this has been dangled over him with no obvious benefit."

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