Now that the confidence vote in Boris Johnson’s leadership is on, Conservative MPs have suddenly become very busy, while senior Tories are breaking cover to declare that they no longer support the Prime Minister either. Jeremy Hunt, currently the favourite to replace Johnson with some bookies, has surprised no one by announcing that 'today I will be voting for change'.
Perhaps more surprising has been the resignation of Johnson's anti-corruption tsar John Penrose, who sent his letter in this morning. Penrose said he couldn't continue as an anti-corruption champion given the Prime Minister had, in his view, clearly concluded he had broken the ministerial code:
“As a result, I'm afraid it wouldn't be honourable or right for me to remain as your anti-corruption champion after reaching this conclusion, not for you to remain as Prime Minister either. I hope you will now stand aside so we can look to the future and choose your successor.
The suspicion among those around Johnson is that there are two main groups who are agitating against him: One Nation types, seen as the more centrist elements of the party, and a small rump of people who are in some way prosecuting Brexit. There is also, though, a 'God Squad element', according to one cabinet minister, pointing to Steve Baker, Andrea Leadsom and Gary Streeter – all prominent Christians who have strongly criticised Johnson or called for him to go.
In the meantime, the whipping operation around Johnson is trying to get back into gear, having been largely quiet over the past week or so. One of the problems, explains a Johnson supporter, is that ringing around MPs in the Jubilee week would have attracted even more attention to the instability of the Prime Minister.
But it does mean that MPs who are deeply worried about Johnson's leadership – but who are still keen to hear reasons why they shouldn't vote against him tonight – haven't heard anything. One 2019er who says they are not 'brimming with confidence' has yet to be contacted. Many MPs are still on their way back down to Westminster from their constituencies because the Commons doesn't sit until 2.30 p.m. this afternoon. Of course, one downside of having lots of Red Wall MPs is that they have longer train journeys than their shire colleagues. It is much harder to have these kinds of conversations on the phone or on WhatsApp than it is face to face. This means that the work to convince wavering MPs is unlikely to start in earnest until a couple of hours before the voting starts.