Isabel Hardman Isabel Hardman

Does Boris have a supporters’ club left in parliament?

(Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP via Getty Images)

Boris Johnson needs to use the departure of Dominic Cummings and Lee Cain to repair relations with his parliamentary party. That is very clear, and the problems have been brewing for months. What is less clear is how much of a group of naturally loyal MPs, who have the same political instincts as the Prime Minister, remains.

Johnson is a strange combination of charismatic communicator and loner. Many who have known and worked alongside him for years say they still don’t see themselves as his close friends and find it hard to identify a cogent social group around the Prime Minister. His lieutenants had to work hard to build a parliamentary base from which to launch his eventual successful leadership bid last year.

Tory ginger groups are popping up like mushrooms all over the place at the moment. Two of the most recent ones are the Covid Recovery Group, which opposes further lockdowns, and the Northern Research Group, which is trying to stop the loss of new ‘red wall’ seats. Longer-standing groups are no more accommodating: a member of the One Nation group remarks that ‘we owe him nothing’, while his more natural constituency of the European Research Group contains some of the most vocal critics of his Covid policy.

These flocks of MPs are interesting to study in detail, but take a step back and something else emerges. When you look at a large flock of birds moving through the sky, sometimes the most striking pattern is the one made by the spaces between their wings, rather than the birds themselves. In the Tory party, the conspicuous spaces are created by the lack of pro-Boris groups.

David Cameron and George Osborne had a keen group of Cameroon MPs when they started out at the top of the party.

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