Katy Balls

How Tory MPs are reacting to Dominic Cummings’ departure

How Tory MPs are reacting to Dominic Cummings' departure
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With Boris Johnson's senior aides Dominic Cummings and Lee Cain both working from home until they officially leave their roles, attention is turning to what will follow the Downing Street Vote Leave era. Up until now, aides from the Vote Leave campaign have held the balance of power in No. 10. This has seen Johnson successfully re-establish the Tories as a party of Brexit and adopt a more combative approach on a range of issues. As I say in the i paper, the departure of the pair marks a new chapter for Johnson’s government. 

One place where this is broadly being viewed positively is the Tory backbenches. 'It’s good news that Vote Leave are weakening their grip,' one Conservative MP from the 2015 intake says of this week’s events. 'A lot of us have never met these people in the whole time they have been in charge. That tells you a lot'. Their hope is that the departure of Vote Leave aides will usher in a new chapter for Mr Johnson’s government – one in which the parliamentary party is consulted more and treated with more respect. 

'We’re hoping for a culture change – we want things to be less combative,' says one such Tory MP. However, another Conservative MP tells Coffee House they suspect trouble ahead: 'If I were Boris I would worry that MPs from both ends of the spectrum are celebrating – they both won't get what they want'.

The problem with revolutions in of themselves is you really need something to replace the old with. As things stand, there is a lot of uncertainty in government about what the next chapter means. Mr Johnson’s partner Carrie Symonds is being viewed within Downing Street as someone who has come out of the week stronger. Allegra Stratton is also being talked up as a key figure in the government reset.

Various briefings to the papers suggest these figures are keen for a less combative approach. Some supporters even suggest the government agenda could shift to – with more of a focus on green jobs and projecting an image of a liberal global Britain. Johnson is tipped to have a big environment announcement next week.

While these are policy agendas that have support with many Tory MPs (the One Nation group are particularly jubilant this weekend), others worry that the departure of the Vote Leave team is bad news for the red wall. After all, these figures were instrumental in the government’s electoral message. 'I think a lot of my colleagues haven’t clocked the implications of this yet,' says one member of the 2019 intake. 'They don’t understand what flag bearers these people were for the red wall'. '

The concern is that there could be a pivot to a more traditional Conservatism – one that might appeal more to southerners than the new Tory voters in the north. 'Even if they keep level up, there are things on language and ignoring woke nonsense that could be pushed aside,' says a government insider.  In what appears to be a rebuttal to this type of argument, Stratton has retweeted a Guardian journalist suggesting an environmental agenda is compatible with keeping red wall voters on side.

It's still early days when it comes to who the key figures will be – and the future direction. The events of this week happened sooner than many anticipated so there isn’t much of a plan in place – that risks a vacuum which is a dangerous place for any premiership to be. The appointment of a new Chief of Staff will be a key indicator of the future direction of this government. In order for Johnson’s reset to be a success, he will need an adviser and a vision that can unite his MPs and bring grip to Downing Street.

Written byKaty Balls

Katy Balls is The Spectator's deputy political editor.

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