Politics

An Insider's Guide to Tory In-Fighting

We got a bunch of Conservatives to tell us who's been slagging off whom.
July 26, 2017, 11:52am
Theresa May enjoys the tennis at Wimbledon (Photo by Daniel Leal-Olivas/POOL/PA Wire/PA Images)

What the hell is going on inside the Conservative party? Since Theresa May's own goal of a snap election, there's rarely been a day without a story on the government tearing itself apart over Brexit, austerity, internal battles or all of the above. Much of this has happened while the Tories have been unwinding at parties during the summer social season, where politicians let it all hang out over a warm flute of prosecco with their favourite insider journalists.

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MPs have now gone back to their constituencies for summer recess, which should give everyone a bit of space to breathe, but the civil war has all but disappeared and should kick off again in September.

Below is a series of unedited and anonymous quotes from Tory advisers, journalists and MPs – mixed up, but verbatim – to help you make sense of the clusterfuck currently unfolding, and what may happen next.

HOW LONG DOES MAY HAVE?

"I was at that Spectator party and what wasn't reported on was the amount of cabinet ministers who went up to journalists and openly slagged off Theresa May, feet away from Theresa herself."

"They were slating her to journalists, even if it was friendly journalists, and I thought: 'That is power receding from Downing Street'. If your cabinet ministers are at the same party as you, in the same room, and slagging you off, that gives you a deadline for how long you can stay in power."

"The problem is that we've got about 35 people who want to be leader of the party, but no one from any faction will start sending their no confidence letters until they're sure that they have any support to make it to the final two, which makes it safer for her."

"There's a whole group of 2010/2015 intake MPs who want Theresa May to carry on for as long as possible, and the reason for that is that if there's an election now, they won't be in the running, they're not ready."

Mmmmm (Photo by Flikr user JouWatch)

THE FACTIONS

"It's an enormous mess."

"There are people who think they could support Boris or David Davis because they're Brexiteers. Some people think that Michael Gove may still have some kind of shot, despite being the weirdest person in British politics. There are people who still think that Leadbanger – sorry, Leadsom's – got a shot. Then you've got the 2015/2017 intakes, who are thinking, 'You're all yesterday's men, why should we have any of you?' Then you've got the Remain camp of 'anybody but someone who wants to leave Europe'."

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"There's a generation for whom it's very much their last hurrah – if they don't make it this time they're finished, and retirement on the back benches and a potential knighthood is all they can look forward to, and that's why they're being so vicious."

THE PLOTTING

"It's mainly face to face, or one-to-one WhatsApp, never group WhatsApps, because group WhatsApps leak. What can't leak is a private conversation on the terrace, at the Red Lion, or over dinner."

"The WhatsApp thing is overblown – it doesn't give you a full picture of the party, and the problem with that is there are a lot of people who aren't on WhatsApp and who plot the traditional way, landline to landline."

"There's drinking in bars, going to events together, it's about who has breakfast with whom in the members' room – never underestimate a plot hatched over scrambled eggs and porridge."

"It's oozing and schmoozing, getting to know as many people as you can, winning them over, finding out what they believe and being all things to all people. You find out who their enemies are and tell them why they're right to hate them."

"Then you begin to do the briefing: you start briefing about you, and get your people to brief against the other people. You never want to be tarred by a journalist having knowledge that you started on this journey by putting your colleagues in the shit. You need to be clean, other people have to be dirty."

THE COUNTERPLOTTING

"If you're already in government, you can use government machinery in an attempt to exclude everybody else, which means that Number 10 and the whips' office keep having to stop shit getting through if it's designed to make person A look good and person B look bad and the prime minister look worse than everybody else."

"The whips also tend to pre-emptively launching leadership campaigns on people's behalf because they want them to fail, and fail quickly, instead of festering behind closed doors."

THE SHITTY KING MAKERS

"The Davis camp is people who are personally invested in him as his friends – Andrew Mitchell, Grant Shapps, who have been briefing in his favour. Unfortunately, Mitchell and Shapps are two of the most loathed people in the Tory party."

"There are a lot of people who consider themselves kingmakers – Crispin Blunt, Andrew Mitchell… I mean, who in their right mind will listen to Andrew Mitchell?"

Portrait of David Davis by Chris McAndrew under an Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC by 3.0) license / Portrait of Boris Johnson used under an Open Government License v 3.0

PLOTTERS: THE OLD SCHOOL

David Davis
"DD has a lot of junior ministers, the sort of people who are never going to get a promotion under Theresa May; there's not going to be a wide-ranging reshuffle which would see them going up to cabinet if she's too weak to sack her secretaries of state, so for their own personal career they want a quick change."

"His problem is that if he waits a few years, there will be people in position to go against him who aren't ready at the moment. If I were him, I would have done it now – it would have looked brutal and nasty, but it's his last chance."

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"He had a meeting of about 40 MPs who told him he should run. You've got his allies going around saying, 'As soon as Davis presses the button, he'll have the numbers,' and I think that's true – if Davis suddenly wanted to go, he could trigger an election."

Boris Johnson
"The problem with Boris is that his team isn't very good. MPs like Jake Berry and Nigel Adams aren't very impressive. But the worst part of him is that he's completely fucked it, because the whole point of Boris was, 'I'm going to be foreign secretary, I'll be a statesman, I'll prove that I can do the big job,' except he hasn't done that."

"It was always going to be a challenge because the French think he's an idiot, everyone thinks he's an idiot, but he hasn't helped himself because he keeps saying ridiculous things. He's unreliable and he doesn't know what he's doing, and that's really damaged him with the Tory party."

"Team Boris aren't keen on a contest now anyway, because it's very hard to run a campaign from the Foreign Office as you're never in the country, and it's not domestic policy, so you're not speaking to your back benchers very often."

"Nigel Adams, who ran his campaign last year, had drinks at his flat last week, which apparently got very raucous, and a lot of Tory MPs and whips were there. They realise that Boris is quite unpopular within the Tory parliamentary party because he just hasn't made an effort, so his mission for the next year is to build friendships in there."

PLOTTERS: THE NEW HOPEFULS

Priti Patel
"The interesting one to keep your eyes on is Priti Patel. Rob Oxley was her spad then became head of press for the general election, but more importantly, she was one of two cabinet ministers at Rupert Murdoch's wedding – Gove and Patel were the only two invited."

"Rupert thinks very highly of her, she thinks of herself as the daughter of Thatcher, and Paul Dacre also thinks very highly of her, and if you've got the Mail and the Sun's backing, that counts a lot."

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"She's highly ambitious, but she's in a shit job – she can't really unleash her real right-wing instincts because you can't cut the international development budget."

"Priti Patel thinks so highly of herself. She's really annoying – there's something about her tone that feels off, and also she loves hanging." [Patel backed the re-introduction of capital punishment until recently.]

James Cleverly
"There's James Cleverly – he's always been highly ambitious, and he's human, he's the anti-Theresa May: Theresa doesn't gossip or drink in Westminster and that's literally all he does."

"Theresa May with personality" – Victoria Atkins portrait by Chris McAndrew under an Attribution Unported (CC by 3.0) license

Victoria Atkins
"Victoria Atkins keeps getting mentioned by MPs as someone to watch. She's been described as 'Theresa May with a personality': she's good but can also crack a joke and have a chat like a normal human."

Dominic Raab
"There's a big one. He used to work for Davis in his parliamentary office, and if the next Tory leadership election is in four years, by which point Davis will be too old, a lot of Davis's support will probably shift to Raab."

Amber Rudd
"Don't listen to the bollocks that she's worried about her constituency – she'll definitely run and doesn't consider that a problem, and she'll have all that George Osborne and friends support behind her."

PLOTTERS: THE NEW HOPELESS

Sajid Javid
"Sajid is running, but he can't take the right of the party with him. When he arrived in Parliament he had a picture of Margaret Thatcher in his office, but he fucked it when he backed Remain."

"His problem is that he seems good on paper – he's a Thatcherite, which members like; he's an ethnic minority and has an interesting background – but in real life he's weird and awkward."

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Johnny Mercer
"The problem with him is that he wrote his own book about being in the army, and if you've ever been in the army or around army people you know that you shouldn't be the one writing your own book; you shouldn't milk it."

THERE WILL BE BLOOD

"Whenever it comes, this next leadership contest, it will be the most violent and nastiest one we've had since Ted Heath left."

"We've got our tin hats on, our bayonets fixed, we're in the trenches, we're just effectively waiting for the barrage of shit to stop before we launch ourselves into the mud of the fucking Somme."

@youngvulgarian