Get a grip Boris! Johnson given last chance to save himself as Tory donors call time on PM
Boris Johnson: Political insider discusses PM’s future
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It comes as the Sunday Express has learnt that the Conservatives could be facing a cash crisis with major donors refusing to give any more money while Mr Johnson is in charge. The Liberal Democrat victory in North Shropshire has fuelled demands for a “clear-out” of staff in Downing St and hiked pressure on the PM to raise his game amid fears that the Conservatives could lose their majority at the next election. The panic is also leading senior figures in the party machine to “discreetly look for new jobs” according to one source.
One donor said he and others from the City who have put up cash for the party are “disgusted” by the allegations over secret Christmas parties and “a complete lack of direction” in policy or vision.
Another has said that he will end direct support for more than 20 MPs, mostly in Red Wall seats, because it is “a complete waste of money, they are going to lose their seats anyway.”
The donor added: “North Shropshire is a complete slam dunk. He [Boris Johnson] has to go and he has to go now or it is going to be complete carnage at the next general election.”
The donor said that it was now “embarrassing to admit you are a Conservative” following the allegations over the alleged parties in Downing Street while the country was in lockdown.
Another donor told the Sunday Express how Mr Johnson was behaving like “a half-witted pheasant.”:
He said: “The atmosphere at the top is completely radioactive. He [Boris Johnson] won’t get another penny from a number of us.
“The big problem is the total incompetence and the fact that this Government does not have a conservative bone in its body.
“We now have the hysteria over the new [covid] variant and are moving into more restrictions, this is costing us billions of pounds.
“But it’s worse because it is a high tax, big state, big spend government which wastes vast sums of money on things like HS2
“Everyone is appalled by their behaviour and priorities.
“If we don’t change him now then we are running it too close for the next election.”
Meanwhile, the North Shropshire result losing a seat which had been Conservative since its inception in 1832, has caused dismay on the backbenches.
One source told the Sunday Express that “dozens of letters” to the 1922 Committee needed to trigger a vote of confidence have been prepared with MPs considering whether to send them over the Christmas break.
And an away day for Conservative MPs to raise morale and encourage team building in the first week of January has been cancelled because of covid.
A Conservative MP who won a “red wall” seat from Labour in 2019 warned that Mr Johnson is facing his “last roll of the dice” and if he cannot improve the situation within three month’s of May’s local elections “people are just going to go mad”.
Describing the feeling among MPs, they said: “If Boris isn’t careful it’s going to be the last days of Boris, it’s going to be his last 100 days, genuinely.”
The PM was humiliated on Tuesday when 101 Conservative MPs refused to back the introduction of Covid passes for nightclubs and large events in England.
The MP said that people in Downing Street were “almost in a sense of denial about how bad it was” and appeared “clueless”.
However, the Red Waller said Mr Johnson’s career was “still salvageable” but he had to make big, bold and difficult decisions, including a “clear-out” of the No 10 operation.
They said: “If Boris builds a competent team he can be the competence candidate with a bit of flair and the x-factor which he personally brings to it – which is why it’s not over yet.”
The rebellion and disastrous by-election – which was triggered when Owen Paterson resigned following controversy over his lobbying activities – come on the heels of controversy about parties held in Downing St and Whitehall during lockdown and the row over MPs’ second jobs.
The Government’s shaky performance has allegedly stirred fears among MPs that the Conservatives could lose their majority at the next election and that Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer could stitch together deals with the Liberal Democrats and SNP and end up as Prime Minister.
However, former Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns stressed that Mr Johnson has a track record of delivering spectacular electoral comebacks.
He said: “There’s no doubt it’s been a difficult couple of weeks. From the discussions I’ve had with senior colleagues there is no doubt that the prime minister recognises the challenges.
“On a personal level I feel that if anyone can turn the current situation around it is Boris Johnson. I remember being in the cabinet when we scored 8.8 percent in the European elections before Boris Johnson turned it around and delivered a thumping majority in the general election.”
There is strong speculation that David Canzini, widely regarded as a key talent at election guru Lynton Crosby’s CTF Partners, could be brought into Downing St to impose order.
Mr Cairns said: “I remember David Canzini from when he worked for the Conservative party [and] his discipline and foresight was excellent at challenging times and should he join the team then he would be a great asset.”
A former cabinet minister said the view of “most senior people in the party is that the No 10 operation is not fit for purpose” but they also pushed for more distinctively Conservative policies.
Warning that the problems facing the party could be about “more than just the Owen Paterson stuff and the parties in Downing St,” they said: “I think there may also be concern about what looks like non-Conservative policies being pushed through.”
A key concern is the “very regressive” increase in National Insurance contributions which will start in April which they consider a “huge mistake”.
“That should go,” they said. “But there needs to be a return to what really might be regarded as the sort of policies you expect from a Conservative Government.”
North West Leicestershire MP Andrew Bridgen, who took the seat from Labour in 2010 and has since increased his majority to 20,400, said voters in the by-election were dismayed at the lack of clear Conservative policies.
He said: “The electorate sent a strong message. They are Conservative people and they are in despair.
“They are naturally conservatively-inclined people and they are in despair.”
An MP with a deep knowledge of North Shropshire said Neil Shastri-Hurst – a barrister who served as a medical officer in the Royal Army Medical Corps – was the “wrong candidate” to fight the rural seat.
A local news website ran the headline “Tories select Birmingham barrister as candidate” when Mr Shastri-Hurst won the nomination. His profile on the Edgbaston Conservatives web-page describes him as “born and brought up in Birmingham”.
The MP said: “Even though Birmingham is in the West Midlands and not too far away from North Shropshire, it is a world apart.”
A backbench Conservative underscored how the controversy over Downing St parties had damaged the standing of the prime minister, saying they had refused recent invitations for drinks at No 10 “because I don’t think it’s appropriate to be out drinking at No 10 when we’re putting restrictions on people’s freedoms”.
The MP was alarmed that the PM had been pictured in Downing Street asking questions in a Christmas quiz when the capital was under tier two restrictions. Although the quiz was conducted online it is claimed many staff stayed in the building to take part.
The MP said: “It’s either breathtaking arrogance or breathtaking stupidity, neither of which are going to be attractive to Conservative voters.”
Expressing regret that ministers had not prevented recent debacles, they said: “What’s disappointed me is that the cabinet has allowed all these things to happen. Why didn’t someone say something?”
They doubted that any member of the government could succeed Mr Johnson as PM because “they didn’t stop the madness at No 10.”
They did not think Mr Johnson would succeed in getting his government back on track in the coming weeks because “I just don’t think Boris is going to change”.
However, Will Tanner, director of the respected Conservative think tank Onward argues that while the loss of North Shropshire is a “damaging unforced error” it is “not necessarily the fall of the first domino” and Mr Johnson can still recover.
Mr Tanner insists Conservative voters are more united than Labour supporters in key areas and the next election remains the Tories’ to lose.
He argues the Government must focus on delivering the levelling-up agenda. It is due to set out clear plans in the coming weeks in a long-awaited white paper overseen by Michael Gove, secretary of state for levelling up, housing and communities.
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