Amber Rudd’s resignation has clearly been a blow to the government, but it wasn’t a huge surprise that she went after a week in which many of her closest political allies were booted out of the Tory party. What is more of a surprise is that she accepted a cabinet job with Boris Johnson in the first place. MPs who were being offered jobs when the Prime Minister took over had conversations with Johnson’s top aide Dominic Cummings in which he warned that there would be what he termed ‘collateral damage’ to the Conservative party as a result of his efforts to get Brexit sorted. They can’t believe Rudd didn’t take a step back and think about what that damage would entail.
That said, there are nerves about how much more damage the party can take. Even those in Number 10 who are supportive of Cummings are placing a heavy emphasis on the need to ‘take the party along with you’. One Brexiteer MP says: ‘The thing about Dom is that he doesn’t care about how much collateral damage he has caused. The question is whether Boris is prepared to rein him in at all.’ Another senior Tory, who thinks it was right to expel the rebels last week, argues that while he has great faith in Cummings’ ability to understand what the popular mood of the country is, the PM’s adviser still ‘doesn’t understand parliament’, which is why things have been quite so torrid.
Johnson might not want to rein in Cummings: after all, he needs him to get Britain out of the European Union by 31 October, do or die. But the Prime Minister does need to make an effort with his MPs himself. As I reported last week, he was buzzing about in the Commons tearoom, wooing MPs, and I understand that he has a number of meetings with Conservative backbenchers today.
The party is still in a state of shock, but one thing that has helped the remaining MPs bond together is the way some of their ex-colleagues have been behaving. In particular, Philip Hammond’s claim that the party ‘has been taken over by unelected advisors, entryists and usurpers who who are trying to turn it from a broad church into an extreme right-wing faction’ has exercised a lot of them.
The conversation in one of the Conservative WhatsApp groups last night took an unexpected turn when Brexiteer Steve Baker shared a passage from the Bible, Romans 12, which he said he hoped would ‘help us individually and together to succeed in the midst of difficulty’. One of the verses in this part of scripture tells readers that ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head’. Baker asked his colleagues ‘not to reply in kind but to bless those who curse us’. It’s not clear whether everyone will heed his advice, but what is clear is that some of the comments from ex-colleagues have irritated Conservative MPs sufficiently to make them want to get on with one another a little better.