Boris Johnson is facing mounting Tory unrest over ‘unforced errors’ today as a poll found nearly two-thirds of the public believe he should apologise for the Owen Paterson shambles.
The PM delivered a mea culpa to his own MPs last night admitting he ‘crashed the car’ with the extraordinary bid to save the ex-minister by pausing the Commons standards regime.
But research by Redfield & Wilton Strategies for MailOnline found that 63 per cent of the public think he should have said sorry – something he has pointedly refused to do.
Despite the government’s 80-strong majority, there are growing signs of discontent on the Conservative benches at the premier’s record of blunders and U-turns – which seems to be starting to hit support among voters.
There appeared to be a thin Tory attendance at the weekly PMQs session yesterday, which is usually an opportunity for raucous shows of support.
And not all MPs turned up last night for votes on triggering a process of reform for rules on conduct and second jobs, which many politicians regard as ‘knee-jerk’ and impossible to implement.
The government is fending off more Red Wall gripes today as HS2 and Northern Powerhouse links to Leeds have been dropped from a huge package of ‘Levelling Up’ rail improvements.
Research by Redfield & Wilton Strategies for MailOnline found 63 per cent of the public think Boris Johnson should have said sorry – something he has pointedly refused to do
There appeared to be a thin Tory attendance at the weekly PMQs session yesterday, which is usually an opportunity for raucous shows of support
One senior Conservative told MailOnline that Mr Johnson needs to mount a charm offensive on the 2019 intake, with fears they have not been integrated into the party due to the pandemic. He has already hosted a drinks reception at No10 in a bid to ‘reach out’.
‘Colleagues are being dragooned into voting in particular ways without consideration of the damage that can be done… There is an undercurrent of dissatisfaction with where we are.
‘He has burned through political capital and it is unnecessary. When you have to do things that are difficult that is fine.
‘But if you fail to spot things that is a problem. They hadn’t spotted it and then they panicked.’
The MP said Mr Johnson had made the ‘right call’ by coming to speak to the Tory backbench 1922 committee last night – but pointed out that only around 150 politicians were there, out of around 365.
Redfield & Wilton surveyed 1,500 people online yesterday, with the results weighted to represent the wider population.
A third ‘strongly’ agreed with the statement that Mr Johnson should have apologised for attempting to change the standards system in response to the Paterson case.
Another 30 per cent agreed – and only 6 per cent disagreed.
At a private meeting of the Conservative backbench 1922 Committee last night, Mr Johnson took responsibility for the Government’s botched attempt to get Owen Paterson off the hook after he was found to have broken the rules on paid lobbying.
‘On a clear day I crashed the car into a ditch. I will get the car out of the ditch,’ he reportedly told the gathering.
In a round of interviews this morning, Deputy PM Dominic Raab conceded that Tories were ‘disgrunted’ but insisted ministers are committed to ‘fixing the problem’.
Asked on Sky News about discontent within the party, he said there is always ‘one or other disgruntled individual’ who is prepared to complain anonymously in the media.
Pressed on whether that means there is no general unrest, Mr Raab added: ‘Not sure I’d put it in that idyllic way. There’s always debate amongst MPs, but the most important thing is we’re fixing the problem.’
On Wednesday, the Commons backed Mr Johnson’s proposals to ban MPs from taking paid political consultancies and to limit the time they can spend doing second jobs.
However just 297 MPs – fewer than half the total – voted for the motion, with opposition parties abstaining.
Boris Johnson (right leaving Downing Street today) has admitted he made a ‘total mistake’ over the Owen Paterson (left) case
Four Tory MPs even voted for a rival Labour motion which would have imposed a clear parliamentary timetable for implementing reform.
Former Cabinet minister Robert Jenrick said the PM had been poorly advised when it came to reforming the standards system.
He told ITV’s Peston: ‘It has been a very difficult two weeks and almost everyone involved would agree that it’s been handled poorly by the Government and it’s damaged the Government to an extent, and it’s damaged Parliament as well.
‘We need to take action now to restore a degree of public trust in the standards in public life, and what you would expect from a Member of Parliament.’
Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves said there is a lack of urgency from the Government when it comes to dealing with the issue.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Thursday morning: ‘The problem with the amendment from the Government which was passed yesterday is that there is no timetable.
‘It wasn’t a binding vote and, as a result, I just fear it is going to be kicked further into the long grass rather than the fundamental reform that people want and need to see now to restore confidence in our parliamentary democracy.
‘I think that public service and being an MP is something that I am proud of and I think most MPs are, but at the moment you don’t feel that proud. People look at MPs and just think it is just mired in sleaze.
‘I think we need to sort this out quickly to restore the reputation of Parliament.
‘It seems that Government just don’t have that sense of urgency about restoring people’s faith and trust in our parliamentary democracy.’
In a round of interviews this morning, Deputy PM Dominic Raab conceded that Tories were ‘disgrunted’ but insisted ministers are committed to ‘fixing the problem’
Mr Johnson’s appearance before the 1922 Committee was the culmination of weeks of pressure following the fiasco over the attempt to save Mr Paterson from suspension.
The former Cabinet minister had been found to have breached lobbying rules by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards but a Government-backed amendment attempted to save him from suspension and overhaul the whole standards process.
The Government U-turned on the idea after a backlash and Mr Paterson resigned as an MP, but the saga kicked off a deep dive into standards in public life, with a focus on second jobs.
Appearing before the Commons Liaison Committee on Wednesday, Mr Johnson admitted the initial effort to shield Mr Paterson had been an error.
‘The intention genuinely was not to exonerate anybody, the intention was to see whether there was some way in which, on a cross-party basis, we could improve the system,’ he said.
‘In retrospect it was obviously, obviously mistaken to think we could conflate the two things and do I regret that decision? Yes I certainly do.’