Parliament is ablaze with gossip and rumour this morning. There's only one question on anyone's lips: will any more MPs defect to Labour? Such speculation has been fuelled by something of a collective Fleet Street guessing game: the Sunday Times has predicted that up to six Tories might make the jump while today's Telegraph merely suggests three. The Guardian conservatively suggests that one Tory MP is in 'advanced discussions' about defecting while a second is in talks with a Labour MP about the possibility of doing so.
Such talk has been fuelled by the case of Bury South backbencher Christian Wakeford, who crossed the floor in January. Much like Snowball in Animal Farm, he's now being blamed for all subsequent misfortunes, with several Tory MPs accusing him of being behind the briefings. Wakeford denies this but his parliamentary assistant Matthew Torbitt, the mastermind behind the January defection, has done his bit to stir the pot by mischievously tweeting '#OperationDomino', suggesting that more could follow.
Some of those regarded as the 'most likely' to defect suspect the hand of No. 10 and the Tory whips' office being behind the rumours. Bishop Auckland MP Dehenna Davison was so enraged by her name being mentioned as a possible Labour defector that she even took to Twitter to declare that 'for the avoidance of doubt, again, I’m not bloody defecting. To those anonymous colleagues spreading such rumours, my door is always open for a chat.' Her Hampshire colleague Caroline Nokes then jumped in, tweeting 'Me neither' even though, er, no one thought she would.
Others weighing in publicly include Robert Largan, MP for High Peak, who claimed his local Labour party 'is still riddled with antisemites' and Gary Sambrook, the Member for Birmingham Northfield (and big dinners) who joked 'I'm far too working class to join Labour.' Lee Anderson, Tom Hunt and Brendan Clarke-Smith meanwhile all held up pictures of food and drink, declaring that 'when somebody asked us to join the party we thought it was one with curry and beer.' Boom, boom.
Suspicion has therefore fallen on anyone who hasn't professed their loyalty online. But as one long-suffering Conservative staffer pointed out to Mr S: 'Everyone who is annoyed at the moment wants a more Tory government doing more Tory things. Why would they therefore defect to Labour?' Others point out that it's clearly in Labour's interest to stir such speculation to destabilise their opponents, regardless of whether the claims have any basis in reality.
Perhaps the pithiest comment was from a Tory MP of the 2019 intake who, when asked for their thoughts on such rumours, replied 'I think it's bollocks, personally.' Only time will tell...