It's a mark of the government's desperation that, less than two weeks after his disastrous performance on Newsnight, Jacob Rees-Mogg was wheeled out on the same show again last night. Having done his bit for the Union by dismissing Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross suggesting he wasn't a 'very significant figure,' the Somerset MP has now decided to rewrite the British constitution.
He told Newsnight that if Boris Johnson goes, 'a change of leader requires a general election' as the UK is now effectively a 'presidential system' and 'the mandate is personal rather than entirely party'. This is news, of course, to Rees-Mogg's Conservative colleagues in Parliament.
Steerpike knows that the Leader of the Commons is a keen student of Walter Bagehot and suspects he can't really believe Johnson's departure would trigger a general election, given it would be the new premier's prerogative whether to call one or not. Still, this was the same Cabinet minister who yesterday told the cameras outside No. 10 that the government was going from 'strength to strength'. This was a claim which would make even Baghdad Bob – the Iraqi information minister who denied that an American invasion of his country was taking place – blush.
And while most of Rees-Mogg's fellow Conservatives were content to contain their incredulity, not all were willing to be so reticent. The Tory Reform Group, which boasts Tom Tugendhat, Damian Green and Robert Buckland, dubbed the Old Etonian's appearance as 'another irresponsible outing.'
— TRG (@ToryReformGroup) January 25, 2022
No one individual is bigger than the Conservative Party, another irresponsible outing on Newsnight from the Leader of the House of Commons https://t.co/YjtcA7p35w
The worrying thing for No. 10 is just how few of Johnson's ministerial colleagues are proactively defending him. Other than Mogg, only Nadine Dorries has voiced full-throated support for the beleaguered Prime Minister since the revelation that he was 'ambushed by a cake' at a surprise lockdown birthday party.
Will more ministers be willing to come forward to defend Johnson? Mr S suspects the publication of the Sue Gray report will be a turning point either way, especially as the current joke in Westminster is that it's a file with a cake in it.