An open letter to Tory MPs: Why your leader must now go
- Credit: PA
Tory MPs helped put the prime minister in Number 10 a year ago and they can ultimately decide how long he stays there. LIZ GERARD addresses them directly and wonders if they are coming to the same conclusion as she is.
Dear Conservative backbencher,
This time last year you were being asked to choose a new leader for your party – and the country. Boris Johnson had just told a debate with his rival Jeremy Hunt that if he were to win, Britain would leave the EU on October 31 and that there would be no general election before we were out. The following week he moved into Downing Street, promising to 'deliver Brexit, unite the country, defeat Corbyn and energise Britain'.
Will you be celebrating the anniversary? If you voted for Johnson, are you still glad you did? He defaulted on the first two counts and managed barely half of that 'DUDE' pledge. Is that good enough for you? Do you remain confident that he can 'unleash the potential of this great country'? That 'those who bet against Britain will lose their shirts'; that Crispin Odey will be rummaging through Oxfam rails, rather than ordering from Jermyn Street?
Or are you having doubts?
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How was your postbag after Dominic Cummings' trip to Durham? Were you impressed by cabinet ministers tweeting (on pain of losing their jobs if they didn't) that it was 'quite reasonable' behaviour, knowing that many of the people you represent felt angry and betrayed, that there was 'one rule for us…'?
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What did you think when you saw Stanley Johnson flout both British and Greek regulations to visit his holiday villa – and then, swimming towel draped over his shoulder, pour out some defence about making the property 'covid proof', as though he does his own cleaning?
Did you agree when the prime minister blamed care homes that 'didn't follow procedures' for the deaths of their residents; with the reinstatement of car parking charges for NHS workers; with new immigration rules that would bar many of those nurses and doctors you applauded on Thursday evenings even from entering the country?
What is your opinion of the sacking of the country's top civil servant – yes, that £250,000 pay-off proves he was sacked and didn't leave 'by mutual consent'? About the appointment of a whisky industry chief to run our national security? About the general upheaval of the civil service at the behest of an unelected political adviser who threatened 'a hard rain' was going to fall?
Talking of threats from Mr Cummings, do you have a view on your colleague Mark Francois warning the military that 'Cummings will come after you – and you won't like it'? He's also 'after' the judicial system, universities, the NHS and the BBC, among other institutions – when he's done with checking up on our top secret installations. Is that OK with you? Is it OK that the key qualification now for any public or international role is not experience or ability, but to be a Brexiter?
Ah, Brexit. We know that you had to sign up to Mr Johnson's 'oven-ready' departure from the EU as the price of a place on the ballot paper, but that was before anyone had heard of Covid. Do you think it was wise to refuse to countenance any extension of the transition period, even in the face of a global crisis? Does it worry you that 27 acres of Kent have to be turned into a lorry park?
Do you share or discount the international trade secretary's fears that borders won't be ready on time, that there is a risk of smuggling and plans for Northern Ireland might even not be legal? And, even if her fears were unfounded, do you think it appropriate that she should have been summoned to Downing Street for a Cummings carpeting after her concerns were made public? Do you have a view on the tearing up of planning laws to pay less attention to 'newt-counters' and give more freedom to developers who want to turn old office blocks into one-window flats? Are you confident that environmental and safety standards won't be compromised, so soon after Grenfell?
What about food standards? Are you relaxed about chlorinated chicken and the fact that ministers' categorical promises that it would not be sold here counted for nothing; that country-of-origin labelling might not only cease to be a requirement, but could even be outlawed? Did you read that bit before voting for it?
So many questions. Has anyone in government sought your opinion on any of them? Delivering Brexit was in the manifesto; you will have known what was down the line on immigration. But what about all those other things?
Most MPs go into politics because they want to change the world for the better. People say 'They're all in it for themselves' or – particularly of Tories like yourself – 'They're just there for the rich'. But that's not the case is it? You believe in free enterprise, the free market, free-spirited individualism (a lot of freedoms – though not, presumably, freedom of movement), but that's because you believe that these make greater prosperity for all more likely.
It goes without saying that you believe in democracy, in the sovereignty of parliament. After all, wasn't that what the Brexit vote was all about?
So how does it feel to discover that you are nothing more than a vote – and a few 'hear hears' if you're lucky enough to get a seat at PMQs? How embarrassing is it to have to cheer Mr Johnson's bluster as Keir Starmer forensically dissects him to expose his empty core, lie by lie, week after week? If you trust your leader and think he's doing right by the country, you might go along with it – accept that you are just a foot soldier. But do you? Trust him and think he's doing right by the country?
The flag-waving joker dangling from a zipwire might have been fun in 2012, but do you think our international reputation is enhanced by a leader who dons an ill-fitting high-vis jacket and jumps on any available piece of heavy machinery at the drop of a too-small hardhat? Is that the way statesmen behave when tens of thousands of their fellow citizens are dying? Voters are beginning to think it isn't. Corbyn has gone and people are seeing Starmer as a safer pair of hands. Your party chose Boris Johnson because he was a winner – and he duly delivered the landslide victory that should have secured your job for a decade or more. But will it? And at what price?
Have you seen the House of Lords committee report on the Brexit legislation and the Henry VIII powers therein? Did you realise when you voted for it that you were surrendering your right to have a say in law-making, which most would regard as an MP's raison d'etre? That you were rubber stamping ministers' authority to create new offences, backed up by unlimited fines, without any reference to, or consideration by, parliament, beyond a debate lasting as long as a football match – and only then after they have become law? Do you see any parallels between this and the constitutional changes that will keep Putin in power for decades, published and distributed before Russians had voted on them?
Does it trouble you that procurement contracts are being awarded without any tendering process? That your government bought PPE from a chocolatier, a pest-control contractor and a T-shirt salesman? Is it a concern that Robert Jenrick is accused of rushing through a planning approval saving party donor Richard Desmond having to pay the 'Marxists' of Tower Hamlets council £48 million? Did it surprise you to learn that the PM intended to spend nearly a million pounds having an aeroplane painted – about five times the usual cost? Do you regard this as a sensible investment as the country faces the deepest recession it has ever known? Did anyone ask you?
I doubt it. When the cabinet is stuffed with yes men, most of whom learn about policy only after it has been decided by the inner circle, who in Downing Street is going to waste a second on what a mere backbencher thinks?
Your personal future hinges on how the British public views these behaviours. Yet your capacity to influence them is being reduced at every turn. To be frank, you are just lobby fodder. If you feel that sycophancy might lead to ministerial office, you can stand up at PMQs and mention your constituency, to be rewarded with some arcane historical titbit that's supposed to show that the prime minister appreciates the significance of your town. Another fiction to add to the pile. But didn't you go into politics to make the country a better place?
The time is fast approaching when you will need to decide whether following this particular leader will achieve that.
You need to decide whether Boris Johnson can build a prosperous, thriving, united country out of the catastrophe that is Covid and the catastrophe that will be Brexit.
But more than that, you need to decide if the country believes he can do it. You need to calculate whether voters will punish him for the way their loved ones died of a vicious virus, for the loss of their jobs, for the failure to create the sunny uplands promised in the referendum – or if they will still think 'good old Boris'.
Your party has a ruthless streak when it comes to leaders who don't come up to scratch. And by most measures, this leader doesn't. If you don't get rid of him, he will drag you all down.
But you must wield the knife with precision. You need to beware a hasty, half-baked move that would succeed only in securing his position for another year or – given that he already seems to be wearying of the role – as long as he needs to ensure that remote controller Cummings stays in place, probably with Gove as his new mechanical. That would accelerate the emasculation of our parliamentary democracy and your own part in it.
Ten years ago today, Mr Johnson was embroiled in a love triangle that renewed speculation about how many children he had fathered. Stephen Glover wrote an appraisal in the Daily Mail headlined 'Selfish, lazy, arrogant. My friend Boris thinks he can get away with anything (but I don't think he'll ever be PM)'.
Your colleagues and predecessors – maybe even you, yourself – ensured that he was wrong on the key point.
It's time to set things right.
Kind regards, A Constituent