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Avoid temptation Mrs May, says Chris Moncrieff

By Chris Moncrieff | In-depth | Published:

How big a threat is Boris Johnson to Theresa May? Many now suspect that, despite his protestations to the contrary, the Foreign Secretary is hell-bent on leading the Tories into the next General Election, says Chris Moncrieff.

Political operator – Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson is by no means the clownish buffoon he would have us believe he is. In fact, although the Foreign Secretary’s hair ‘style’ is more reminiscent of a madcap circus performer than anything else, he is a political operator of high skills and cunning.

So there was certainly nothing naive about his actions a week or two ago, when he not only breached the draconian Cabinet rule of collective silence – ie you do not spill the beans before, after or during the event – he also breached the rule that you do not stray out of your own ministerial portfolio, and ‘invade’ someone else’s.

Johnson not only leaked what the Cabinet were planning to do – have a discussion about particular facets of Brexit – but also assumed the mantle of Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt in saying the financial benefits from a successful Brexit should be poured into the National Health Service.

The Prime Minister was not pleased. She rapped his knuckles sharply with the metaphorical ruler and said that such conduct by any member of the Cabinet should not be repeated.

So what was in Johnson’s mind? He well knew that what he was doing was totally at odds with strict Cabinet rules. But what many of his colleagues suspect is that he’s angling to get the sack. If he was thrown out of the Cabinet, he could operate far more dangerously as a threat to the leadership – if that is what he has in mind – than if he tamely resigned.

It may well be tempting to the Prime Minister to boot him out, but she must try to, avoid that temptation. Johnson shows all the signs of being more ambitious, and you get the feeling he is gagging to lead the Tories into the next General Election.

In short, if Mrs May fails to avoid the temptation of dumping him, the glistening knives could soon be flashing. You have been warned Mrs M!

Boris Johnson is not the only internal problem faced by Mrs May.

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There is a slowly-growing groundswell of opinion among a section of Tory back-benchers - by no means all, I hasten to add - who are unhappy about the direction the party is taking and who believe that May and her Brexit team should be far more aggressive in its handling of the Brexit negotiations. This movement is not yet a serious danger to the Prime Minister, but it needs to be watched closely.

Some of them have formally expressed their feelings to the powerful 1922 Committee of Tory back-benchers, and there does come an arithmetic point – not yet in sight – where a leadership election has to be held.

No one could accuse the Prime Minister of having an easy ride.

Madison Marriage was the under-cover Financial Times reporter who exposed the 'goings on' at the now notorious President’s Club men-only charity dinner at London’s Dorchester Hotel.

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According to some garish reports, this so-called ‘Gropefest’, which was supposed to be a charity occasion, was awash with middle-aged and very rich men, groping, harassing and sexually propositioning the 100 or so skimpily-clad young women brought in as ‘escorts’.

Ms Marriage, the only one of these escorts to be quoted in the newspapers, said she herself was groped and subject to sexual harassment. A Government law officer has said that criminal acts may have been performed at this occasion. So the big - and vital - question is this: Has Ms Marriage or any of her colleagues reported this alleged misbehaviour to the police? And if not, why not?

The police have spent much time investigating allegations of this type of sexual misconduct going back for decades. Here you have alleged victims of this behaviour on hand. They must know who the miscreants are since there would have been cards naming the guests at each place at the table.

These girls, and Ms Marriage in particular, have a duty to report these events to the police. Two of those who attended, entertainers Jimmy Tarbuck and David Walliams, have both said they saw nothing amiss - although I admit that doesn’t prove anything.

Anyway, what on earth did the organisers think might happen if they let loose about 100 pretty girls ordered to dress seductively and skimpily into a room full of unaccompanied boozy men? Until we see what the police have to say, we must reserve judgement. The ball is in your court, Ms Marriage.

Jeremy Corbyn also has internal party problems - although not on the scale of his opponent.

According to the outspoken Labour back-bencher John Mann, Corbyn would be in his 70s if he became Prime Minister. That’s far too old, says Mr Mann. But for a man like Corbyn, who digs his allotment vigorously at every possible opportunity, the 70s shouldn’t provide any problem at all.

Chris Moncrieff

By Chris Moncrieff

Journalist and former political editor of the Press Association

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