Good morning. Yesterday four of Boris Johnson’s most senior aides announced they were leaving Downing Street, but the resignations fell into (at least) two categories.
The decision of Munira Mirza to quit as head of the policy unit, in protest at Johnson’s smear about Keir Starmer, was a shock, and about as damaging as the resignation of an official could be. She started working for Johnson when he was mayor of London, and had been utterly loyal, and many Tories will conclude if she can defend him no longer, then his situation is terminal.
The depature of Martin Reynolds, Johnson’s principal private secretary, and Dan Rosenfield, his chief of staff, announced later in the day, were more akin to sackings, and potentially more helpful. Both had been expected to go as part of the long-promised shake-up in response to partygate and, while mass sackings never look savoury, some Tory MPs were happy to peddle the No 10 line that this showed Johnson was serious about change.
Jack Doyle’s departure as press secretary – also widely expected – falls into the second category too, although he may have had more say over the timing of his exit than Reynolds and Rosenfield. Their resignations were only announced a bit later, as No 10 sought to convert the “Mirza quits” story into a “PM orders staff shake-up” one.
And it is not over. This morning Paul Goodman, editor of ConservativeHome, says another member of the No 10 policy unit, Elena Narozanski, has resigned. Narozanski has been an adviser on women and equalities.
All this means that the threat level for Johnson within the Conservative party, which has wavered between high and off-the-scale in recent weeks, is edging up again. This morning, in an interview on the Today programme, Huw Merriman, the Conservative chair of the Commons transport committee said that Johnson had to shape up or go. Mangling the familiar phrase (it was early in the morning), he said:
I’m deeply troubled by what’s going on. We all know that if the prime minister doesn’t ship up, then they have to shape out [sic], and that’s exactly what happened when this prime minister took over.
Interestingly, Merriman also claimed that he was probably talking for a silent majority of Conservative MPs.
I think there are a large group of Conservative MPs who are being loyal, focusing also on the prime minister’s positives and are not either eulogising with tweets, copy and paste, or going on the attack because they’ve never liked the prime mnister. That’s why you don’t hear from a lot of us, because we want this to work.
When it was put to Merriman that he was saying it was “shape up or ship out” for Johnson, Merriman replied:
It is for very single leader of any party, and certainly any prime minister, because it is all about winning elections and having a mandate to deliver.
Here is the agenda for the day.
11.30am: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.
12pm: The ONS publishes the results of its latest weekly Covid infection survey in full.
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