When Michael Gove addressed Tory MPs on Wednesday evening at a meeting of the 1922 committee, he began with a tribute to Boris Johnson. After a rocky few days for the Prime Minister in which he has apologised to the House for attending a drinks party in the Downing Street garden during lockdown and faced calls from his own side to resign, Gove took the opportunity to remind MPs of Johnson's selling points.
The levelling up secretary told MPs that their leader 'gets the big calls right' citing Brexit, vaccines and Johnson's recent decision not to bring in extra Covid restrictions over Christmas. Given that Gove was one of the ministers calling for more restrictions, he joked that it was fair to say he sat at the 'bedwetter end of the spectrum': unlike the Prime Minister who had been vindicated in ignoring his advice.
It was notable that when Gove finished talking about Johnson the room was silent — with no applause. Eventually applause came – but only later on in the session once Gove had spoken about levelling up and his new cladding policy. Gove's efforts to whip up support for Johnson are part of a wider effort from cabinet ministers to help their beleaguered boss. Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries has said Johnson had done the right thing in apologising while Jacob Rees-Mogg used a broadcast interview to suggest that if anyone should lose their job it was civil servants. Ministers including Kwasi Kwarteng and the Treasury's Simon Clarke are among those to have put supportive messages on the Tory MP WhatsApp group.
So has Johnson's position improved since Prime Minister's Questions? The public show of support from the cabinet shows that there is an effort underway to steady the ship. Yet the mood in the party remains one of anger and frustration. Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross has called on Johnson to resign, as have a handful of Tory MPs including William Wragg. MPs believe a handful of letters have gone in, but that achieving the magic number required to trigger a confidence vote is some way away.
Johnson's tour of the tearoom after Prime Minister's Questions didn't exactly inspire confidence. Those he spoke to complain that he implied he was taking responsibility for other people's behaviours rather than his own, which raises questions about the sincerity of his apology. The best news for Johnson after today is that a majority of MPs want to wait for the Sue Gray report into the various Downing Street parties before coming to a conclusion on the next step. But it's clear the jury's still out.