James Forsyth

Do the Tory whips have Boris’s back?

Do the Tory whips have Boris's back?
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Whips are made for leadership crises. They are a party leader's early warning system; they can sniff out plots before they get going. So it is, as I report in this week's magazine, far from ideal for Boris Johnson that relations between him and the whips office remain strained.

The problem dates back to the Owen Paterson affair. The whips were furious that their chief, Mark Spencer, received so much of the blame when they felt he was just following orders from No. 10. The result, one Johnson ministerial loyalist complains, is that ‘the whips’ office are on a go-slow’. When Labour went on the attack with an urgent question on Tuesday, the whips made little effort to get ministers and backbenchers into the chamber: the empty Tory benches spoke volumes. (The image was so powerful it made the front of the Daily Telegraph on Wednesday)

Tory MPs tells me the whips are also making very little effort to pull into line those who have criticised the PM. If more Tory MPs start making public demands for Johnson to go, will the whips spring into action or stay in their somewhat dispassionate state?