It's easier than ever for Tory MPs to attack the PM. Whereas once media was the preserve of four channels and dominated by a handful of national papers, platforms like Twitter have made it quicker than ever before for Conservative backbenchers to issue stinging criticisms. And indeed many have made the most of such sites in recent weeks, as the pressure on Boris Johnson over partygate steadily increases. Tim Loughton became the sixth Tory MP to call for Johnson to go on Saturday, taking to Facebook to explain his decision.
Some though prefer to express their criticisms through the more traditional mechanism of an MPs' weekly column in the local constituency newspaper. And, in a sign which should worry No. 10, it's the new boys and girls of Parliament who are among the angriest in their scribblings on lockdown-breaking shenanigans. Chris Loder, first elected in 2019, wrote on Thursday in the Bridport & Lyme Regis News that 'I and most of my colleagues feel deeply embarrassed and humiliated by such revelations.' And he hints at behind-the-scenes activity, writing that 'whilst we might not be plastered all over the television saying such things, the government knows how I and many of you feel about this, having been to see the Prime Minister personally, just before Christmas to tell him directly.' He concludes: 'I’m not convinced that the evolving narrative from the Prime Minister, most recently in the House of Commons yesterday is acceptable.'
Another 2019-er, Antony Higginbotham, wrote in the Burnley Express on Friday that the No. 10 parties were 'something I need to comment on as I share the anger of residents... I too missed out on seeing friends and family, I celebrated my birthday alone and especially felt for my mother when the family could not properly grieve the death of a family members of ours.' Derek Thomas meanwhile claimed that: 'If the enquiry or the Metropolitan Police find that the alleged activities were illegal and that the PM knew this, or was involved, then I than see no other outcome than for the PM to resign.' And Tory grandee James Gray added: 'the truth must be the disinfectant of our Augean stables,' finishing his column thus: 'If any of these allegations are found to be true, and if the PM or other senior people are shown to have been involved, then our support for them will, without doubt, disappear.'
Not all Tories were critical: Sally Ann-Hart provided some much-needed fawning support. Writing in the Hastings Observer on Friday she claimed: 'Looking at our neighbours in the EU, I do believe that the Prime Minister is getting this Government’s response to the pandemic right and doing all that he can to protect lives and livelihoods.' Including his own? Elsewhere Sir Desmond Swayne eschewed traditional media for a decidedly noughties approach to comms, writing on his blog about the differences between Covid regulations and 'guidance.' He suggests that the Downing Street gatherings could be defended on the grounds No. 10 is a place of work not a dwelling but that 'if this does indeed turn out to be the Monopoly “get out of jail free card”, I fear it just won’t wash.'
Not all Tory MPs preferred to dedicate their columns to questions of future leadership. Damian Collins' weekly effort on Friday was featured in the independent Hawkinge Gazette under the headline: 'Folkestone & Hythe MP reports excitement over Pie and Mash Shop.' Meanwhile Rishi Sunak, the perennial favourite to be Johnson's successor, opted for an even safer subject last week as he moved to quell talk that he's plotting against the PM. The photogenic Chancellor instead plumped for the topic of... a tree-planting initiative to mark the Queen's 70 years on the throne. His 473-word column in the Darlington & Stockton Times sadly did not detail his thoughts on his next door neighbour's party shenanigans, while finding time to lament his own poor culinary skills.
Still, given his grassroots appeal, Mr S wouldn't bet against the spruced up Chancellor branching out any time soon.