Politics

Ruth Davidson floats possible replacements for Boris Johnson

RUTH Davidson has said Boris Johnson is “drinking in the last chance saloon” after the Tories lost the North Shropshire byelection, as she floated names of possible successors.

The former Scottish Tory leader, who doesn’t hide her disdain for Mr Johnson, said he had been “put on warning by his MPs” who were holding off from removing him for now.

Ennobled by the Prime Minister, Baroness Davidson also said there had been a “general lack of grip” and Tory MPs were “looking for a bit of bloody grip to be exerted”.

She said she felt most sorry for the Tory candidate, Dr Neil Shastri-Hurst, who had “taken an almighty kicking because of events that were completely outside his control”.

She added: “I really feel for him and I hope he’s not left to carry the can.”

Mr Shastri-Hurst saw a 23,000-vote Tory majority in the seat evaporate under an onslaught from the Liberal Democrats, whose Helen Morgan won by almost 6000 votes. 

The Tory campaign was dogged by negative headlines emanating from Westminster about sleaze, Downing Street parties through lockdown, and the PM’s reported misconduct.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s World at One, Ms Davidson said the Tory benches were looking for a PM who had “less of the drama” and more focus.

The byelection was triggered by the resignation of former minister Own Paterson, who had held North Shropshire since 1997.

He was last month found guilty of an “egregious” breach of Westminster lobbying rules and the Prime Minister tried to change the standards regime to spare him a month’s suspension.

The move backfired spectacularly, the PM backed down, Mr Paterson resigned, and a wave of Tory sleaze stories emerged which ran seamlessly into rows over Number 10 and Tory HQ parties during lockdown, Downing Street’s refurbishment and the return of Covid restrictions.  

The LibDems foregrounded the sleaze issue in the byelection and made it a referendum on Mr Johnson and his government’s performance. 

Ms Davidson said: “It’s no news item to say that this was a self-inflicted wound. There didn’t need to be a byelection. If the Government had taken Owen Paterson aside and said, ‘Look, the Standards Commissioner has made the ruling, the [Standards] Committee has made a ruling, take your lumps’, he would have been back in the House of Commons a week ago.

“Nobody would even have known what he was sanctioned for.

“There wouldn’t have been a byelection. None of this would have happened. But it’s happened precisely because it was so badly fumbled by Number 10.

“Now, to be fair the Prime Minister, he’s held his hands up and said to the party that mistakes were made there, and I hope he’s learned from them. 

“Because none of this election overnight needed to happen.”

Asked if she thought voters saw the PM as a “buffoon” who didn’t take things seriously, she said: “I think that there has been a general lack of grip. My views about the Prime Minister are well-known and much reported.

“In terms of party management, in terms of the management of the country… it’s MPs who decide the Prime Ministers fate, and whether they sent a letter to the 1922 [committee] or not.

“My view from the other end of the building, from the Lords, is that actually the MPs aren’t there yet. The Prime Minister is drinking in the last chance saloon.

“But they are looking for him, after Christmas, to come back with a programme for government, to sharpen up the operation at Number 10, to stop having all of these own goals and burning political capital.

“Not just on this. Also on Dominic Cummings and Barnard Castle. Also on MPs’ second jobs. Also the party is looking for a bit of bloody grip to be exerted.

“And if they see that they might hold off. But I think the Prime Minister has been put on warning by his MPs.”

Asked about possible successors, Baroness Davidson was happy to speculate at length.

She said: “I think it’s true there’s no natural successor. 

“I think what’s interesting is that events that have happened over the last month, month and a half, have allowed this to now be openly talked about at all levels within the party.

“But if you’re saying, is there talent in the party, then absolutely. I would say there’s talent in the current cabinet.

“I would say [Chancellor] Rishi Sunak’s doing very well, I’d say [Health Secretary] Sajid Javid’s doing very well. 

I would say, having recently been promoted from vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi has done brilliantly and deserves the promotion into cabinet.

“I think in terms of people who aren’t even in government that are talented, you look at Jeremy Hunt, you look at Tom Tugendhat, if you look at people who are junior ministers who could be promoted you look at people like Kemi Badenoch. 

“There’s plenty there to work with if you want a strong cabinet around the Prime Minister, but you’ve got to have a prime minister that has got a programme for government and has got the grip and has got the staff to be able to execute i,t and has got the plan for it.

She said MPs she had spoken to were saying “they’re tired of the constant drama coming out of No 10. And actually the No 11 flat as well. And they’re getting it in the neck every time they go back to their constituencies every week.

“So I think what they’re looking for is a more sober prime minister that’s going to get on with the job and have less of the drama around what he does and will cut out the self-inflicted mistakes. One of things that really hurt the Conservatives hard was that appalling performance at the CBI, not treating business across the country seriously when people have been sweating blood just to keep their head above water, and to help with the economic recovery, and he turns up and talks about Peppa Pig.

“That’s a completely self-inflicted wound that didn’t need to happen.”

 

 

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