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Those who have personal experience of being betrayed by the Prime Minister testify that right up until the deed is done he will emphasise how together he and the victim are going to do such great things once they get out of whatever scrape Boris has got them into. There will be intense bonhomie. He’ll deploy an ersatz Churchill-style glower and even throw in an affectionate name: “X, X-ie thank you. Thank you. For your inspirational work. We’re going to do so much Y when all this crap is over.”
Sometimes, what with people not being stupid, the person about to be cast aside figures it out, stops smiling back and occassionally even jumps before they’re pushed. That’s how to stun Johnson.
Team Boris does not seem to realise the extent of the danger if Tory chief whip Mark Spencer comes to such a conclusion.
It is no exaggeration to say that Spencer holds Johnson’s fate in his hands. This is purely hypothetical, but imagine the damage from the explosion if Spencer quit. If he handed in a letter to the chairman of the 1922 committee it would signal the collapse of the parliamentary party and its official structures.
And this is the chief whip who is in the process of being humiliated by his pro-Boris colleagues. A shadow-whipping operation has been established by Johnson’s closest supporters, to run the effort at protecting the leader from a vote of confidence. Ostensibly, this is justified because the job of the chief whip is to get government business through the Commons and not to organise a defence of the party and PM. In practice, a chief whip is parliamentary power personified, a key figure.
Tory loyalist Spencer is being treated as though he is nothing, a lone figure in the departure lounge of public life. For his organisational support of the Johnson farce he is now bottom of the ConHome membership survey cabinet league table, below even the PM.
In the robust but calmly delivered attacks by three former chief whips – Andrew Mitchell, Mark Harper and now Julian Smith – can be detected considerable anger at the way the whipping system, and Spencer, are being used and treated by Johnson’s band of desperadoes.
In recent days, briefings have appeared suggesting Spencer is for the chop by Johnson. This is an extremely stupid move by Team Boris.
It was the shadow whipping operation that went so badly wrong on Monday. After listening to his closest supporters telling him to come out fighting, let Boris be Boris, Big Dog Boris moved quickly from mild contrition to full attack dog mode in his response to questions on the publication of the Sue Gray update. Johnson smeared the Labour leader, and when he wasn’t obfuscating Boris was shouting.
The performance was a car crash and many Tory MPs were appalled.
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Perhaps Spencer will suck it up, and take what’s being done as all in the job description of a loyal party servant. Or perhaps he won’t. And think what he’s seen.
The Prime Minister’s supporters are taking a hell of a gamble on the goodwill of Mark Spencer.