Melanie had had enough. After watching Boris Johnson try to explain that there had not been a lockdown-busting party in No 10 – and even if there had, no rules had been broken – she picked up the phone to Conservative Central Office and cancelled her party membership.
‘I said, ‘just cancel my membership. I resign; I will not support Boris’,’ she told a phone-in on BBC Five Live moments after Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday had finished.
‘I’ve always voted Conservative. I only became a member when Boris came to the forefront, I really liked Boris,’ she went on. ‘But I just cannot believe what he says any more.’
Some Tory MPs are whispering feverishly about sending letters of no confidence to Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee – the first step in triggering a leadership contest
She is not alone. Tory MPs report a growing tide of angry emails and phone calls from party members and constituents about the lack of grip in No 10, and the toxic claim that those at the heart of government believe the rules do not apply to them.
Some Tory MPs are also starting to wonder whether they might be better off without their talismanic leader, whose election-winning qualities are offset by a chaotic approach to life and government.
What started as a rumble of discontent over the handling of the Owen Paterson sleaze allegations last month, is fast becoming a roar.
Paul Goodman, editor of the Conservative Home website, which is broadly supportive of the PM, yesterday said a vote of no confidence in him had ‘suddenly become more likely than not’.
Mr Johnson’s old employer, The Daily Telegraph, asked on its front page: ‘Is this the beginning of the end for Boris?’
Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, the treasurer of the 1922 Committee, said No 10 was ‘just making too many own goals, frankly’. Does he think time’s up for the PM? ‘Not yet, but I think he’s got to get a grip. We’ll all go away for Christmas at the end of next week and no doubt everybody will be coming back hoping for a lot, lot better.’
On Tuesday, Mr Johnson faces what looks set to be the biggest Tory revolt of his premiership when MPs vote on the introduction of Plan B. Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer is seen above at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday
Matters look set to get worse before they get better.
The PM, whose wife Carrie gave birth to their second child yesterday, has had a tough week. A rare apology over a leaked video in which No 10 aides joked about the alleged Christmas party, singularly failed to end the anger over the affair.
Hours later, he announced Britain would be moving to Covid Plan B, prompting allegations that he was imposing new rules on the public to divert attention from the fact that his own staff had been breaking the rules.
Yesterday, the Electoral Commission fined the Conservative Party £17,800 for inaccurate reporting of donations to the refurbishment of the PM’s Downing Street flat, leading to fresh questions about whether he had told the full story to his adviser on the Ministerial Code, Lord Geidt.
But, if anything, next week looks even tougher.
On Tuesday, Mr Johnson faces what looks set to be the biggest Tory revolt of his premiership when MPs vote on the introduction of Plan B.
By yesterday evening dozens of Tory MPs had publicly declared they would not support the new crackdown, with many apparently unaware the Government had already made significant concessions.
On Thursday, voters go to the polls in the Shropshire North by-election sparked by the resignation of Mr Paterson for breaking lobbying rules. The Conservatives hold a towering majority of 23,000, but Tory chiefs fear the difficult backdrop at Westminster could spark a shock defeat.
Some Tory MPs are whispering feverishly about sending letters of no confidence to Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee – the first step in triggering a leadership contest. The PM is pictured above with Chancellor Rishi Sunak on December 1st
‘We have a great candidate but the circumstances could not be worse,’ said one insider.
‘We face a real struggle to get our people out.’ So is Boris Johnson really in trouble? Could the Tories really be poised to ditch the leader who secured them a landslide election victory just two years ago, vanquished Jeremy Corbyn and delivered Brexit?
In the past he has frequently confounded critics who have written him off, leading friends to nickname him the ‘greased piglet’. But the current Tory mood is more febrile than anything seen since the election.
Sajid Javid yesterday revealed he had refused to go out and defend the Government on the airwaves on Wednesday morning after the video clip of the mock press conference emerged.
One MP was so dismayed by the PM’s Commons performance on Wednesday that he drove straight home, ignoring a three-line whip.
Red Wall MPs, many of whom are sitting on wafer-thin majorities and have no experience of being behind, are getting jittery.
Some Tory MPs are whispering feverishly about sending letters of no confidence to Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee – the first step in triggering a leadership contest.
No-one thinks the number is currently anywhere near the 54 needed to trigger a vote of no confidence. But some believe the situation could change fast.
One knight of the shires said: ‘He is brilliant, but shambolic. We need him to stop being Boris, but we know that he won’t. In the end, if the polls turn against him he would do well to remember that we can be ruthless.
‘I don’t think you will see anything now, but if things are not better by Easter then he could be in very serious trouble.’
A supportive Cabinet minister says the situation is ‘recoverable – provided certain things happen’, before reeling off a list which boils down to installing some discipline in the No 10 operation and being more collegiate.
Another says his critics have no answer to the question of which alternative leader could hold the Red Wall for the Tories.
‘He is the only one who can hold together the electoral coalition,’ the minister said.
‘Rishi (Sunak), Liz (Truss) – they’re on manoeuvres, but how do they win in Darlington?’
Much depends on what the PM does next. Most agree he needs to sharpen up his No 10 operation, stop making so many unforced errors and make greater efforts to show the parliamentary party a little more love.
If he turns inwards, and the polls start to dip in the New Year, then he may find his colleagues have finally run out of patience.