BEN STANSALL/AFP via Getty Images
They are calling it (are they?) the Great British Baker off, the shortest putsch in Westminster history. The Tory MP Steve Baker, noted self defence enthusiast and Cromwellian leader of the ERG militia in the Brexit Wars, sent a note to his colleagues at lunchtime on Thursday telling them that Boris’s leadership is on the table if he does not ease lockdown early. He urged them to contact the Chief Whip. By early evening he had issued a statement hymning the virtues of Boris.
The letter was obtained by Harry Cole, political editor of The Sun. Baker, who helped oust Theresa May, said that unless restrictions are eased “inevitably the Prime Minister’s leadership will be on the table.”
In a call to action radioed to fellow members of the lockdown-sceptic Covid Recovery Group (CRG), Baker said: “People are telling me they are losing faith in our Conservative Party leadership.”
In the full note sent to MPs, Baker wrote:
We must take stock today and act now to avoid severe problems a little later.
Certain Government scientists have said that the current lockdown could last until late spring. There is no reason to think there will be any real resistance in Cabinet to the argument for greater and longer and more draconian restrictions on the public.
This could be a disaster. Nothing seems more certain to break the public than giving hope before taking it away and doing it repeatedly.
Government has adopted a strategy devoid of any commitment to liberty without any clarification about when our most basic freedoms will be restored and with no guarantee that they will never be taken away again. People are telling me they are losing faith in our Conservative Party leadership because they are not standing up for our values as a party. If we continue forward with a strategy that hammers freedom, hammers the private sector, hammers the poor, inevitably the Prime Minister’s leadership will be on the table: we strongly do not want that after all we have been through as a country.
We have asked you all to please be in touch with the Chief Whip to support our letter to him. I am sorry to have to say this again and as bluntly as this: it is imperative you equip the Chief Whip today with your opinion that debate will become about the PM’s leadership if the Government does not set out a clear plan for when our full freedoms will be restored, with a guarantee that this strategy will not be used again next winter.
I am sorry to be blunt but if we do not act now, events will become inevitable. For the good of the country please contact the Chief Whip.
Several hours later, after an intervention was staged, Baker issued a clarificatory tweet endorsing the Prime Minister:
“What this country needs is the complete success of @BorisJohnson, with his excellent EU deal, a successful vaccination programme and a #Road2Recovery back to freedom. I am clear Boris is the only person to lead us out of these difficulties and I support him in that endeavour.”
So what happened? “The chief (whip) asked Steve WTF he’s doing,” claims one Tory MP.
One Westminster observer speculated: “By Baker this is either a) an attempt to get the leadership out there as a subject being discussed or b) Steve has spent far too long in lockdown.” Or possibly a combination of both a) and b).