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This is a follow-up to my post of Friday, February 4, on Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s attempt to placate his fellow Conservative MPs.

After he met with MPs on Monday, January 31 following his statement on the Sue Gray party report, Boris committed himself to reforming the way Downing Street works.

Several MPs whom I’ve seen interviewed on television have said that Boris does not communicate with them at all. This is especially true for the Red Wall MPs from 2019.

Boris now has to woo every one of his backbench MPs or risk letters of no confidence from them about his premiership.

Sir Graham Brady MP chairs the 1922 Committee for Conservative MPs who are not in the Cabinet.

Disgruntled MPs send their no confidence letters to him. If he receives 54 such letters, he can hold a vote of no confidence among all Conservative MPs. Should the vote not go in Boris’s favour, the MPs can run for party leadership. MPs select a short list of those candidates. The party members across the nation vote on the short list, and whoever wins would become the new Prime Minister.

With the resignation of five civil servants last Thursday and Friday, Boris realises he has to get moving — now.

On Friday, he sent a letter to backbench Conservative MPs telling them of his proposal to involve them more. He has asked them to engage with him in the process of re-establishing backbench policy committees:

Guido Fawkes posted about this development on Friday. Boris says he is now willing to communicate more with MPs (emphases mine):

It is vital that we harness all the energy. experience, and insight from our Members of Parliament. This won’t just help improve existing policy, it will help us deal with the many challenges we will face together in the future.

One of the ways I want to achieve this is by working with Sir Graham Brady MP, and colleagues on the Executive of the 1922 Committee, to re-establish backbench policy committees. I want these policy committees to play an important role in generating ideas and discussion and so I encourage colleagues from across the party to get involved.

Sir Graham Brady MP will write to you with specific details on how the process of forming these committees will work. For them to be a success it is vital that government departments and ministers engage with them properly, and I will ensure that the Cabinet understand the importance of taking them seriously. I will also ask Conservative Campaign HQ to link this work up with the work of the Conservative Policy Forum.

I understand the deep importance of engaging with colleagues in Parliament and listening to your views and that is why I want colleagues to have a direct line into 10 Downing Street. With the appointment of Andrew Griffith MP as Director of Policy we will provide whatever engagement and support is necessary to make this a success.

I promised change and that is what we will now deliver together.

However, it came too late for Aaron Bell who had already made up his mind to write to Sir Graham Brady. Bell had spoken up to Boris last Monday in Parliament about a family funeral he attended during lockdown. He asked if Boris took him for a fool for having obeyed all the rules:

Around the same time as Boris’s letter reached MPs on Friday afternoon, Guido reported on Bell’s letter. Some people replying to Guido’s tweet say that he had allegedly submitted it in late January:

Bell wrote that he had consulted with his constituency’s councillors and council candidates running in May’s local elections. He says he wrote the letter on January 12 after that day’s Prime Minister’s Questions:

The Daily Mail gave the names of seven other MPs who have sent letters to Brady: Sir Gary Streeter, Anthony Mangnall, Andrew Bridgen, Peter Aldous, Tobias Ellwood, Douglas Ross (Scottish Conservative leader) and the long-serving Sir Roger Gale.

Former education minister Nick Gibb followed, filing his letter on Friday.

The Mail says that Brady could have received many more letters:

The true number of letters to have been submitted is thought to be several times higher the eight figure because most MPs do not publicly divulge writing to Sir Graham

The threshold for triggering a vote of no-confidence is currently set at 54 letters and many Tory MPs believe it is now ‘inevitable’ the figure will be reached.   

Mr Johnson’s position in Number 10 is increasingly precarious and some Cabinet ministers believe there is a strong chance he will be forced to quit. 

One Cabinet minister told The Times: ‘It feels like the end, it’s all falling apart. It’s 50/50 in my view at the moment’ …

But a Cabinet minister told Politico: ‘He promised action on Monday night and the action has begun. There’s more planned. The restructuring is on its way. It will unfold over the next 48 hours. He’ll move things up a gear and get some discipline.’

LBC’s article on Bell’s letter refers to what is known as the Pork Pie Plot, involving the new 2019 intake of Red Wall MPs who represent former Labour seats:

He is the latest Red Wall Conservative to turn on the PM amid what has been dubbed the Pork Pie Plot – so-called because one of the ringleaders hoping to oust Mr Johnson is reportedly Leicestershire MP Alicia Kearns, whose constituency includes Melton Mowbray, the town famous for baking the pastry.

Hmm. Alicia Kearns. I hope that is not true. She rather reminds me of the women MPs who turned against Theresa May over Brexit in 2019 and had the whip removed. They were not re-elected in the general election that year and faded into obscurity.

On Saturday, January 5, Downing Street announced changes at No. 10. The Welsh journalist Guto Harri (pron. ‘Gitto Harry’), Boris’s director of external affairs during the first four of his eight years as London mayor, will be joining the team:

Unfortunately, most conservative-minded people outside of London only know Harri — real name Guto Pritchard-Jones — for taking the knee during his brief tenure at GB News last summer on the day of the Euro final in solidarity with the England team. His co-presenter, Mercy Muroki, a staunch conservative, could not believe her eyes:

He was roundly criticised on Twitter and GB News never brought him back on air.

Harri’s Wikipedia entry says:

On 13 July 2021 Harri took the knee on GB News to show support for the England football team‘s kneeling for anti-racism; following backlash from viewers, GB News suspended him indefinitely for failing to maintain the editorial standards expected by the network.[22][23] Shortly afterwards he resigned from GB News,[24] having written in The Sunday Times that the channel was “becoming an absurd parody” that was replicating cancel culture on the far right.[25][26]

In 2018, Harri lashed out at both Brexit and Boris:

Harri is a critic of Brexit.[17][18] After Johnson likened Prime Minister Theresa May‘s Chequers Brexit agreement to a “suicide vest” around the British constitution in September 2018,[19] Harri said: “Unfortunately he is now dragging us into a place where we think that we can joke about suicide vests and that we can be sexually incontinent. Somebody needs to take the spade out of his hand or it looks to me like he’s digging his political grave.” He also said Johnson had become “more tribal, and tribal within the tribe, so that he would now be—if he were to become leader—a hugely divisive figure”.[20]

Hmm. Although that was two-and-a-half years ago, how can Boris have the confidence to welcome him to No. 10?

Some conservatives think that Boris hired him because he will be a dab hand at handling the media, lefty to lefty.

But there is something else, a link to Huawei. On Sunday, February 6, the Sun‘s political editor Harry Cole reported:

NEW No10 spin chief Guto Harri lobbied the Government on behalf of toxic Chinese tech giant Huawei, The Sun can reveal.

The controversial firm was banned from building the UK’s 5G network in 2020 because of its links to the Chinese Communist Party and spying fears.

But top-level Whitehall sources have confirmed Mr Harri was directly involved in talks with senior ­officials trying to head off the landmark ban.

Last night Mr Harri resigned from Hawthorn Advisers to become Downing Street’s Director of Communications.

The lobbying firm included Huawei as a major client in the two years that the former BBC journalist worked there. Sources say he had “a hands-on role”.

Friends last night insisted there was no problem with his work for the Chinese company, due to its previous key role providing 3G and 4G coverage to the UK.

And a Downing Street source said: “This is separate to his new role in No10. This Government is committed to removing Huawei from UK 5G networks by 2027.”

Labour will have a field day with this:

Labour said: “We can’t have the revolving door from lobbying to Government see potential ­national security issues arise.”

Deputy leader Angela Rayner demanded answers.

I’m also concerned about Steve Barclay, one of the good guys, being able to handle three jobs: MP, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (formerly Michael Gove’s role) and now Chief of Staff, integrating the new Office of the Prime Minister with the Cabinet Office.

Since everyone is putting names into the hat for the next Conservative Party leader, I’ll add Steve Barclay’s. He has the gravitas and the presence. He could win over the party faithful. You read it here first.

Boris, as ye sow, so shall ye reap. Good luck. You’ll need it.

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