The Tory rebels plotting to oust Boris Johnson have granted the troubled prime minister a “reprieve” following the shock defection of MP Christian Wakeford to the Labour Party – but at least five more could follow him, according to opposition sources.
The so-called “pork-pie plotters” – so named because talks among the 2019 intake of Tory MPs took place in the office of Alicia Kearns, the MP for Rutland and Melton – have reportedly “held back” from submitting letters of no confidence to the 1922 Committee after the MP for Bury South, Christian Wakeford, defected to the Labour Party moments before Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday.
The defection and other interventions from Tory MPs, including David Davis telling Johnson “in the name of God, go”, had a “galvanising effect” on the party. As a result Wakeford faced condemnation from “all wings of the Conservative Party, including from fellow plotters”, reported The Times.
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“The atmosphere has totally changed,” one cabinet minister told the paper. “Wakeford’s defection has helped, it’s united the party. In the tearoom there’s total vitriol for those who are plotting to get rid of the prime minister. It’s schoolboy politics but the stakes are incredibly high.”
Another rebel MP told Sky News’s political editor Beth Rigby that the defection had changed the perspective of some disgruntled voices in the parliamentary party. “It's like when you're arguing over the dinner table and then a suicide bomber walks into the dining room. It sort of puts it all into perspective.”
More possible defections?
Wakeford was elected as a Conservative MP in 2019, in the traditionally Labour stronghold of Bury South, but “crossed the floor” yesterday after months of secret talks with the Labour Party.
In his letter of resignation, Wakeford told Johnson: "Both you and the Conservative Party as a whole have shown themselves incapable of offering the leadership and Government this country deserves.
"My decision is about much more than your leadership and the disgraceful way you have conducted yourself in recent weeks."
But The Telegraph has reported that “as many as five” further Conservative MPs were considering leaving the party, according to Labour sources.
“I have been speaking to other friends across the floor who are incredibly disillusioned and are feeling more and more like their future would be under a Keir Starmer government than a Boris Johnson one,” one unnamed MP told the paper.
The Telegraph reported that another Labour source said “they had personally spoken to three Conservative MPs who had expressed doubts about their future in the party”.
The i news site had a similar report, revealing that “senior Labour figures” are in discussions with “several others” from the Conservative backbenches.
“We’re talking to people. There is a lot of unhappiness,” one shadow cabinet minister told i news.
One Labour MP speculated that further MPs could be “hanging on” until the publication of the much delayed levelling up white paper, due to be published at the start of February.
“I think there’s a lot hanging on the White Paper,” the MP said. “If it’s about ‘civic pride’ and what [think tank] Public First and [Public First partner] Rachel Wolf have been saying and there’s no new money, people will be fuming.”
But as Politico’s Alex Wickham noted: “Labour sources have much to gain from talking this up, and were of course silent when they actually had a real-life defector about to jump.” He advised readers to take the stories of possible defections “with a giant bucket of salt”.
The defection of Wakeford was reportedly the culmination of six months of work by Labour figures, codenamed “Operation Domino”, reported The Telegraph.
Wakeford is said to have been “coached” by the Labour MP for Ogmore, Chris Elmore, who “walked with him into Prime Minister's Questions, where he took his seat on the Labour benches for the first time”.
Discussions with the Labour Party were “not triggered by the recent No. 10 party scandals”, reported i news, and are said to have begun after Wakeford became vice chair of the mostly-Labour School Food All Party Parliamentary Group alongside chair Sharon Hodgson, Starmer’s parliamentary private secretary.
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