Katy Balls

Johnny Mercer is just saying what a lot of Tory MPs are thinking

Johnny Mercer is just saying what a lot of Tory MPs are thinking
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Theresa May's Hell Week 2.0 has aptly ended with a Conservative backbencher branding the current operation a 'sh-t-show'. In an interview with The House magazine, Johnny Mercer has let rip – complaining that were he not a Conservative MP he wouldn't vote Conservative. Mercer says the party's values have changed since the Cameron days and if he weren't an MP already 'there would be absolutely no chance that I would try and be a Member of Parliament' in the current climate. Mercer also rules out taking a job in the current administration – though it's safe to presume that No 10 won't be particularly minded to give one to him after this outburst.

So, is Mercer throwing his toys out of the pram – or does this intervention touch on a wider problem? The difficulty for No 10 is that they can't dismiss Mercer as a hardcore Brexiteer angry at compromise – instead he is regarded within the party as being a moderate on most issues. As the MP for Plymouth Moor View he is in a fairly marginal seat – with a majority of 5,019. In the local elections, Labour took control of Plymouth City Council from the Conservatives, gaining four seats. It follows that Mercer is up against it and will be under no illusions as to how policies like Universal Credit are playing out with voters and will be particularly nervous as to the consequences.

Mercer says in the interview that he is 'inherently a team player' but has grown tired with this feeling that the party is being 'openly ridiculed':

'I just feel that we’re in a position now where people are beginning to ridicule us because yes, we have to get on with this business of Brexit, right, which is a fundamental challenge. But everybody outside of this place, for them the country’s not been a particularly great place…

“They’ll think, ‘why should I vote for your government. Yea alright, you might sort out Brexit eventually but actually, my operation was cancelled again last week. So, to be frank, I’m going to start looking elsewhere’.'

A lot of MPs are making similar noises behind closed doors. As we've seen this week on social media – from MPs like Nick Boles – a growing number of Tory MPs are losing faith in Theresa May's premiership not just because of Brexit but because of the overall lack of agenda. There are a group of MPs – neither particularly Remain or Leave – who had been willing to get behind May until the Brexit deal was agreed. However, many of them are growing increasingly exasperated with No 10's antics and are losing faith in the operation. The very fact that Tory MPs feel able to be so publicly rude about the party suggests we have reached the 'every man for himself' point. Even May loyalists don't pretend they think the Prime Minister should be in place by the time of the next election.

What should worry No 10 is if more Johnny Mercers start to come out of the woodwork. This week morale within the party has hit a low – and May herself has said it's going to get worse before it gets better. The Eurosceptic wing of the Conservative party doesn't currently have the numbers to oust May in a confidence vote (even though they should have the 48 MPs they need to bring about that vote). If the sense of hopelessness starts to spread to the 'stop banging on about Europe' group of Tory MPs, then the Parliamentary party arithmetic changes and May's premiership looks even more wobbly.