James Forsyth

Team Boris’s scorched earth strategy

Team Boris's scorched earth strategy
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Jacob Rees-Mogg is now arguing that the UK system has become so presidential that a new prime minister would feel obliged to call an election. The message to Tory MPs is clear: depose Boris Johnson and you’ll be going to the country in months — and do you really want to do that given the polls?

Rees-Mogg’s argument is being used by the shadow whipping operation too. It has, from what I have been hearing, had some effects on new intake MPs. But among older intakes, there is a bit of a backlash to it. 

There is a view that the argument takes them for fools. Yes, Labour and the other opposition parties would call for an election but why would someone with a majority of almost 80 go for a snap election? There is also a feeling that the argument, like Jacob Rees-Mogg branding Douglas Ross a ‘lightweight’ after the Scottish Tory leader called for Johnson to go, is all a bit scorched earth. 

This is a dangerous tactic because one factor for Tory MPs in their decision making is a fear of how divisive a leadership contest would be. If they get a sense that things are going to get ugly anyway, that might affect their calculations.