Whatever side they’re on, most Tory MPs now think the leadership contest is getting a bit much. They’re worried about the attacks across camps – though of course those who have declared for a candidate tend to think it’s their rivals who are doing the worst mudslinging.
One MP who has gone public with his complaints is Justin Tomlinson, who resigned as deputy chairman of the party so he could back Kemi Badenoch. His messages warning colleagues about the damage that blue-on-blue attacks were doing to the party leaked this morning, and when I spoke to him this afternoon, he explained he was worried that the constant sniping meant the party was at real risk.
‘At the end of this we do still need our party to exist, we are one team,’ he explains. ‘When I was campaigning for Kemi Badenoch, I was very careful to make clear that all of the candidates had positive strengths to offer and whatever the result we would need to move on together.’ Tomlinson, along with others, feels the contest has just gone on far too long, and that this is encouraging the campaign teams to find new angles – or insults – each day. ‘Supporters of both teams need to avoid ‘blue on blue’. Yes debate, but earn our members’ support positively. If you can’t be positive, frankly you don’t deserve to win. Tearing ourselves apart only helps the opposition and it’ll be our marginal seat colleagues who pay the price.’
Both camps are now competing not just on tax policy but on who can come up with the most tweetable insult about their rival. It keeps journalists busy, but Labour’s attack unit need scarcely lift a finger as the lines for future campaign leaflets and Prime Minister’s Questions are just writing themselves.