One by one, cabinet ministers are confirming that they are not resigning this evening, leaving a very small group of ministers who have said nothing. One of the most conspicuous silences comes from Nadhim Zahawi, the Education Secretary. He has been mooted as a potential leadership contender, and has refused to rule out a bid. Tonight, he is not answering calls from colleagues. He is reading messages on WhatsApp but not replying to them. It has now been too long for him just to be a bit busy.
Currently we have two cabinet resignations and a number of more junior ministers and PPSs out too. It is reaching the point where silence is a tactic. Although many Tory MPs are saying that failing to quit now will be held against cabinet ministers in the looming leadership election, there remains a significant bulk of the Conservative membership who aren’t in the same place mentally as the MPs, and who think that what has happened to Johnson is in some way unfortunate. There is therefore a ‘continuity Boris’ vote that is worth courting.
What would Zahawi’s pitch be? He has one of those things that Westminster types are obsessed with: a backstory (you can read about it here in Katy’s interview with him in the magazine). He is also the minister who can lay the best claim to the success of the vaccine programme, given he was the one responsible for it. If this government has lost its reputation for competence, then the next would-be leader will need to offer some evidence that they can regain it. And now Zahawi’s silence has gone on for sufficiently long enough for him to need to explain why he hasn’t yet said a word when he eventually surfaces.
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