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Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Team Boris in the spotlight – what’s really happening in the No 10 inner circle

When politicians are openly ridiculed like this on primetime television, it is time to worry. And plenty of Conservatives are now openly doing just that.

The problems for Johnson started three weeks ago, when a plan to try to overhaul the way MPs’ behaviour is policed was derailed by his attempt to save the career of Owen Paterson.

That led to a rapid about-turn as Labour declined to back the plan, and newly elected Red Wall Tories protested – some wondering why party whips had urged them to vote through changes to save a veteran MP they barely knew.

The Paterson fallout quickly led to rising anger over MPs’ second jobs, the most egregious being the revelation that Sir Geoffrey Cox, the former attorney general, had earned millions of pounds from work outside Parliament.

The wall-to-wall coverage saw the Conservatives’ five per cent poll lead collapse, while Labour narrowly edged ahead; Johnson last week admitted to his own MPs that he had “crashed the car” on a straight road over the Paterson affair.

But the PM’s headaches don’t end there: his current problems are centred around 10 Downing Street, his Cabinet and Parliament.

In No 10, Johnson’s allies point to a lack of a senior adviser after the departures in the past year of Dominic Cummings, his chief adviser, Lee Cain, his director of communications, and Lord Udny-Lister, his chief of staff – partings that have led MPs to fear the wheels have come off the Downing Street machine.

While good at their jobs, the new coterie are not as close to Johnson as their predecessors – and a litany of missteps aren’t doing much to restore confidence in No 10.

Johnson is well aware of the inexperience of some of those working with him, and managed to persuade Ben Gascoigne, his long-standing aide who quit as private secretary in May, to return as a Whitehall enforcer last month.

Gascoigne, whose official title is Deputy Chief of Staff, is being allowed to attend the crucial 8.30am meeting in No 10 before heading out into Whitehall with instructions to “kick people’s backsides,” according to one insider.

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