Fri. Dec 3rd, 2021


Boris Johnson is facing calls from senior Tories to shake up his Downing Street squad after a slingshot speech at the CBI annual conference raised concerns about policy errors and deteriorating relations with MPs.

The Prime Minister’s different address to business leaders on Monday sparked fears among conservative MPs that he is struggling to handle his workload and may need a stronger support network at number 10.

Johnson lost his place for about 30 seconds during his speech in South Shields, referring to the children’s cartoon character Peppa Pig and imitating a petrol car. The Labor Party described the speech as “shambolic”.

A long-term supporter of Johnson has blamed the prime minister’s advisers for recent problems. “Bojo lost his mojo,” the Tory MP said. “There is a mixture of anger and despair, but the real frustration is with the [Number 10] operation, it’s amateurish. ”

Another close ally of Johnson said fears about his position in the Conservative party were increasing.

“I’m starting to get worried,” the Tory MP added. “Supporters who have been reliable so far are getting nervous.”

The MP said two upcoming by-elections in Old Bexley and Sidcup and North Shropshire “would be better OK”.

Conservatives have pointed to recent missteps by the government, including a U-turn on reforming parliamentary standards, the chaotic announcement of a railway investment package and rising numbers of migrants crossing the English Channel in small boats.

One MP said: “The PM is not surrounded by people – whether it be cabinet ministers or advisers – who can effectively challenge and point him out when he is in the wrong direction.”

Downing Street declined to comment, but ministers and officials working closely with Johnson said he was suffering from a severe cold.

Another Tory said: ‘I think he’s had a cold bordering on the flu for some time. I do not think he has the [CBI] speech and was ad-libbing. He should be home with a Lemsip and hot water bottle. ”

Asked by an ITV News reporter if everything was in order after his CBI speech, Johnson said, “People got the vast majority of the points I wanted to make and I thought it went well.”

The BBC reported a senior insider in Downing Street who said “there is a lot of concern in the building about the prime minister”, adding: “It just does not work. The cabinet must wake up and demand serious changes, otherwise it will continue to worsen “If they do not insist, he will not do anything about it.”

One Tory MP representing a constituency in the North of England that was seized from Labor during the 2019 general election said Johnson “does not cut it as a PM”.

He added: “Unfortunately we have a bad habit of promising the earth and when we do deliver and spend money, people are disappointed because that is not exactly what they were told.”

Conservative party donors have expressed concern that “too much is being packed” into the prime minister’s diary.

One noted that he appeared at the Tory Winter Party at the V&A on Monday night, as well as giving a speech in the City of London and attending an important vote in the House of Commons on the government’s social care plan for England.

Another donor said: “If I were Boris, I would not be happy to turn on the full Boris wattage for two speeches – especially if he is clearly tired, as anyone with his schedule would be.”

Few Tories expect any looming party leadership challenge from Johnson, with one saying there was no obvious successor in the cabinet or anyone with a similar record of winning elections.

Yet there is a widespread view among conservatives that something needs to change to improve the government’s fortunes.

“As [Johnson] continue to be everywhere and keep U-turn people will snap ”, said one minister. “He is not infallible and if he thinks he is, he will be in for a shock.”

Another Tory MP said: “I would not be surprised if he retires. . . other people say it will take wild horses to drag him out, like Thatcher or Blair, but I really do not think he has their endurance. ”

Additional post by Jim Pickard in London



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