You wait three years for a resignation, and then thirty-five come along at once… Boris Johnson may have vowed to stay on to fight the expected vote of no confidence (VONC) in his premiership, but at this rate it will be all over, bar the shouting, before the 1922 Committee have even had a chance to change their rules. As in the case of Theresa May, it will not be necessary to bother to do so. The Cabinet will meet with Johnson and tell him it is time to draft his resignation speech. He may draft two versions if he likes, as long as he ends up leaving Number 10 Downing Street in both of them.
Having looked at where Cornwall and Devon MPs stand on Johnson continuing as PM in Part One of our review of the South-West’s Tory MPs, here is Part Two, covering Dorset and Somerset.
Conor Burns, Bournemouth West, is one of Boris Johnson’s all-time closest allies. He was his personal private secretary when he was Foreign Secretary, he is credited with starting the coup against Theresa May to get her out of Downing Street, and he was his right-hand man during the leadership contest in June-July 2019. Since then, Burns has gone on to play a major role in operation Save Big Dog. Despite the Prime Minister’s evident homophobia, there is no chance Burns will ever vote against Johnson in any context.
Sir Christopher Chope, Christchurch, looked very glum-faced as he sat behind Sajid Javid, listening to his resignation speech in the Commons. Chope is somewhat of a moral vacuum himself, blocking important bills on a point of process, but waving through his own private member’s bills and those of his pals that make use of that same flawed process. Even after the stunning by-election defeats in Wakefield and Tiverton and Honiton on June 23rd this year, Chope was still willing to give Johnson the benefit of the doubt. He told Bournemouth Echo:
“I don’t think the party needs a change in leadership, but what I think it does need is a change of direction. It needs to be more sure-footed and clear-headed in implementing Conservative policies.”
Richard Drax, South Dorset, backed Boris Johnson in the 2019 leadership contest and has generally been pro-Johnson. Lately, a smidgen of discontent has been apparent. When Johnson finally bowed to pressure and introduced a windfall tax on companies three weeks ago, for example, Drax accused him of “throwing red meat to socialists”. He has refused to comment on either VONC though.
Tobias Ellwood, Bournemouth East, usually toes the party line, but every now and then, when the situation is dire, he will speak out and express his frustration. In November 2021, there was the memorable clash with Boris Johnson at the Defence Select Committee, which Ellwood chairs, over the place of tanks in a modern army. Johnson thought tank warfare had had its day, but was proved wrong by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Similarly, there was a skirmish over the cost-of-living crisis, with Ellwood suggesting that we re-join the Single Market to attenuate it. Everyone with a brain can see this is a sensible solution, but as the cult of Brexit still holds sway, we are not allowed to even talk about it. Ellwood has openly expressed his lack of confidence in Johnson, voted against him in the first VONC and is likely to do so again if there is a second vote.
Simon Hoare, North Dorset, chairs the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee and is at the sharp end of Johnson’s shenanigans over the Northern Ireland Protocol. It is fair to say he is not impressed with Johnson’s grasp of the issues, nor his response to the problems his decision to put a border in the Irish Sea has caused. Simon Hoare is one of the most principled Tory MPs in parliament and frequently opposes government excesses, overreaching laws and poor policy. It will come as no surprise that he voted against Johnson in the last VONC and will do so again in the next. Indeed, he has taken action to hasten the next vote:
Chris Loder, West Dorset, has flip-flopped on the issue of Johnson’s dishonest premiership. He was one of the original pork pie plotters — members of the 2019 intake who met in the office of Rutland and Melton (Mowbray) MP Alicia Kearns in January this year, prior to the announcement that the Met were stepping in to investigate Number 10 — but when Johnson survived that bout of discontent over “PartyGate”, he was seen to have “surgically attached himself to him” in one of the voting lobbies of parliament. Tim Shipman of The Times wrote:
“As he queued to vote, MPs saw the prime minister in apparently friendly conversation with one of the 2019 intake of MPs, Chris Loder.”
Even so, Loder went ahead and submitted a letter of no confidence in Johnson’s leadership to the 1922 Committee, which he later withdrew, but re-submitted and voted against him in the first VONC. Prior to July 6th’s edition of PMQs, with an anti-government corruption protestor blaring “Bye-bye, Boris” to the tune of an old Bay City Rollers hit in the background, Loder announced he would vote against Johnson in the next VONC too.
Sir Robert Syms, Poole, has been consistent: he voted against Boris Johnson in the first VONC and has called on him to resign with dignity, so it is a safe bet he would again vote against him in any second VONC.
Michael Tomlinson, Mid-Dorset North-Poole, is a long-serving whip who worked alongside Chris Pincher and will have been well aware what was going on. As such he rarely comments on anything and is fiercely loyal to the government. He supported Johnson in the leadership contest and it is likely, since he is on the government payroll, that he would support him in any confidence vote.
Marcus Fysh, Yeovil, told ITV News deputy political editor Anushka Asthana after the disastrous local election results in Somerset in May this year, when the Tories were all but routed, that he thought Boris Johnson needed to change the team around him, but he fell short of calling for Johnson himself to go. He has been a Johnson loyalist through and through, he was quiet before the first VONC and has so far said nothing about the present crisis either. He is unlikely to vote against Johnson in the next VONC.
Liam Fox, North Somerset, has been one of Johnson’s staunchest supporters, even though he has not served him in a ministerial capacity. He was honoured (and flattered) to be put forward by Johnson as the UK’s candidate to head the World Trade Organisation and has continued to help the Department of Trade out with visits to the US to lobby extreme free trade allies there. However, even Liam Fox has now reached his tipping point:
James Heappey, Wells, parliamentary under-secretary of state for the armed forces, plays his cards very close to his chest. He was sent out to the TV studios to spin for the government in late April, and on that occasion, he said that he did not think it was wise to change leadership during a cost-of-living crisis and the war in Ukraine. This was of course a nonsensical thing to say, as we changed prime ministers from Neville Chamberlain to Winston Churchill in WW2, and we were all the better for it. Heappey may be one of the dwindling band of Johnson loyalists. Or perhaps he has not yet resigned because he does not want to cause disruption while the Russian war on Ukraine rages.
Ian Liddell-Grainger, Bridgwater and West Somerset, told Boris Johnson he should go and voted against him in the first VONC. Having won that vote, Liddell-Grainger put Johnson on notice that he only had a few months to prove himself. He warned:
“However he may choose to portray it, this was a serious shot across his bows from a party which has had enough of being dragged down by the revelations of what was taking place in Downing Street while the rest of the country was under legal lockdown.
“The prime minister has won a second chance to prove he is up to the job – even though there are clearly very many who believe he isn’t. He now has a few brief months to attempt to redeem himself.
“Those of us who really have our fingers on the pulse have been only too aware of the damage that has been inflicted on the Conservative Party, on the Government, and on the UK’s international reputation as a result of the hierarchy deciding the anti-Covid regulations somehow didn’t apply to them and proceeding to flout them.”
It looks like Mr Liddell-Grainger was wrong on one point: he did not have a few months, but a few weeks…
John Penrose, Weston-super-Mare, having formerly acted like a blind, deaf mute while in the post of Johnson’s anti-corruption tsar (see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil…), has finally found his voice since resigning over Johnson’s (non-)response to the Sue Gray report into “PartyGate”. In particular, he called for reforms around lobbying, after the Paterson and Greensill scandals, and recommended that the role of Ethics Advisor (which Lord Geidt recently quit) be strengthened. On July 5th he made a powerful intervention in parliament in favour of the Nolan principles of standards in public life:
Penrose will surely not be voting for Boris Johnson in any VONC.
Rebecca Pow, Taunton Deane, parliamentary under-secretary at the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. She is still in post, which will harm her in the event of an election, as she is polling neck-and-neck with the Liberal Democrats. She was silent on the first VONC, as she has been on her intentions for the second one, but the way she sang Johnson’s praises for doing more than any other previous Tory PM on the environment suggests she voted in his favour.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, North-East Somerset, the minister for Brexit Opportunities who still hasn’t spotted any, but who lives up to his nickname of “the member for the eighteenth century” every time he opens his mouth, is ferociously pro-Johnson. He knows full well he would never get a ministerial job under any other prime minister. After Johnson and Gove, he is perhaps the Tory minister who lies most frequently, most willingly and most elaborately. Whatever Johnson does wrong, Rees-Mogg is always waiting in the wings to downplay and trivialize it. He has given his unconditional support to Johnson.
David Warburton, Somerton and Frome, is another “Tory sex-pest” who has had the whip withdrawn, and so cannot vote either way. Amongst other things, he is being investigated for complaints of sexual assault by two different women, taking drugs (having posted photographic evidence of himself with lines of cocaine), and improper financial dealings. The latter is a parliamentary investigation by the Standards Commissioner and could result in suspension, hopefully over the threshold that triggers a recall petition, as he really should have resigned as an MP by now.
Remember all this next time you get a chance to vote for your constituency MP.