Inside Boris Johnson’s fight to stay in No. 10 and keep his challengers at bay

Although Boris Johnson is fighting for his political life, leadership rivals are quietly circling around. Rishi Sunak has met more than 100 MPs this week, Liz Truss is seeking to polish her credentials on the world stage, and Priti Patel is pushing through divisive right-wing legislation encouraged by the Tory grassroots.

Johnson’s three most senior ministers have all used their high-profile government posts to accelerate a particular vision for Britain’s future.

None of them have yet another formal leadership campaign, but all are busy building relationships with backbenchers – even though they insist they only do it as part of their daily jobs.

This week, the Prime Minister’s career has been in more extreme danger than ever before. When evidence emerged that Mr Johnson’s private secretary had invited 100 colleagues to a lockdown party in Downing Street Gardens, attended by the Prime Minister himself, MPs came close to open revolt.

He bought time by admitting the facts and apologizing in the Commons – even though not all the backers were convinced by his explanation that he only showed up because he assumed it was a “work event”.

Several MPs elected in 2019 from the so-called “red wall” have told colleagues they have already sent letters to backbench chief Sir Graham Brady demanding a no-confidence vote for the prime minister, although Sir Graham retains the exact number of letters he has. received a tightly guarded secret.

A member of the intake held a drinks party in his office this week, jokingly called a “letter party” by invitees because all the participants were critics of Mr. Johnson.

The No. 10 team was quietly relieved that so few backbenchers have broken the cover to demand the resignation of their leader without any ministers stopping – unlike the Theresa May era. But they are well aware that senior Mandarin Sue Gray is holding their fate in their hands, with little indication of when her study of the lockdown parties will finally be published.

Johnson may well survive the publication of the report – only to fall later this year. Veteran Conservatives have warned him that poor results in the midterm elections in Birmingham Erdington, where Labor are expected to win a resounding victory in the former marginal seat, and the local elections in May could seal his fate.

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A former minister tells I: “We are screwed at all levels and bleeding support at every turn. I have local government candidates who tell me that they find about a quarter of their support on the doors and say that they can in no way vote for us while the current situation remains unchanged. “

Even the Prime Minister’s loyal supporters are desperate and regard the whirlwind of scandals as a serious threat to the promises he has made to the British people.

A leading Conservative backer who unleashes his anger over the latest revelations says: “It is at least a huge diversion and is forcing the Prime Minister and the government to focus on something that is something they do not want to focus on.”

Johnson’s political figure has always been based on his identity as a born winner, rather than ideological consistency. The last time the Tory party had a leadership crisis, in the summer of 2019, this was a huge advantage – MPs and activists just wanted someone who could bullet through the stalemate.

But senior conservatives now believe that precisely this flexibility can prove his downfall because it means he has never gathered a group of loyal backers who will hold on to him because they share his vision for the country.

Using a classic reference that Mr Johnson might appreciate in other circumstances, a veteran MP says, “He realizes he does not have a Praetorian Guard who will stand around him with poisoned spears.”

This is a mistake that his potential successors – when it comes to leadership choices – are determined not to commit.

Rishi Sunak has been accused of withholding support for Boris Johnson, a claim he denies (Photo: Stefan Rousseau / PA Wire)

The top candidates, especially Mr Sunak, have been accused of withholding support for their boss, allegations which they all deny. The chancellor’s 450-mile round trip to Ilfracombe in Devon, which prevented him from sitting with Mr Johnson as he apologized over the party, was certainly well timed to remove him from the shooting, though the Treasury insists it was just a coincidence.

Although ministers constantly declare that there is no prospect of a leadership challenge, colleagues feel differently. A senior backbencher says that in the wake of the manager’s apology: “People asked, yes, who do you support? So it’s a question of when, not about.” But the MP adds that formal campaigns would not begin while the Prime Minister remains in office, saying: “Before there is a corpse, no one will organize a funeral. There is always a risk that they will end up looking silly. ”

The Chancellor, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of the Interior each have a separate vision of conservatism. Sunak believes he can secure the future of the Conservative Party by drawing on the talents of Silicon Valley. Mrs. Truss believes that a dedication to the cause of freedom can inspire the world. And Mrs Patel sees herself as the tribune of the grassroots, driving through popular political changes that other politicians have been afraid to touch.

The chancellor’s two years in the finance ministry have been overwhelmingly dominated by his Covid emergency measures. The generosity of his financial support has made him the most popular major politician in the country, but a close ally says he has nevertheless found it “frustrating” that he has not been able to find an audience for his views on how the economy can grow in the long run.

“He has been quietly doing this, but everything else has been so noisy,” the ally said. “It has been replaced by the need to focus all the resources of the Ministry of Finance – quite rightly – on emergency preparedness.”

Some economic experts accuse Mr Sunak of hurting the chances of the economy growing due to his obsession with balancing books and lowering taxes. George Dibb of the left-leaning IPPR think tank says in: “The state can do huge things in terms of policy to drive growth, and Sunak has chosen not to do so for the time being.” Mark Littlewood of the Free Market Institute of Economic Affairs says, “Growth does not seem to be a factor in policy-making.”

Sir. Sunak’s team is adamant that this criticism is misplaced. He is not afraid to argue for difficult positions, insists aides and points to his Tory party conference speech, in which he argued that artificial intelligence would be crucial to Britain’s economy. “It was an older, more conservative audience that would not necessarily be used to that type of argument,” one says.

Mrs Truss sees her niche in the party as being the foremost lover of freedom, as described in a speech last month in which she promised to bring together trade, diplomacy and aid to create a new alliance of democracies that can stand up to Russia and China. The foreign minister is promoting “a doctrine based on using the power of the economy to exert influence and draw more countries into the circle of freedom-loving democracies”, according to a source close to her.

Meanwhile, Mrs Patel is known for saying that she is only a politician who is willing to crack down on divisive issues such as crime and illegal immigration because other politicians see these issues as too “grubby” to bother with. This week, accused of allowing vulnerable Britons to be tortured by removing their passports, the interior minister doubled: She shared the accusations on Twitter with a note that read “I stand by my decisions”.

Even though all three say they’re just trying to deliver on their current panties, they may have taken inspiration on how to go against their boss – just in case. Asked recently which cult TV hit he had enjoyed the most recently, Mr. Sunak replied, “Succession.”

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