One of the many rumours doing the rounds in Westminster last night was whether any further Tory MPs might look at the dire state of the party’s electoral fortunes and copy Christian Wakeford in crossing the floor to Labour. Wakeford himself was seen holding court on cloud nine, and acknowledged said defection rumours, as Sir Keir visited the terrace to drink with MPs. Something a media source says has been happening increasingly frequently.
How substantive are the rumours? Guido’s heard a few names over the past week, among them Johnny Mercer. In a new interview with Alastair Campbell, the former Labour spin doctor addresses the question head-on. The answers might not reassure Wendy Morton…
Campbell: Okay. Imagine they were to say to you, ‘Johnny, do you think we would be better off under Keir Starmer’s Labour or Liz Truss’s Tories?’ What would you say?
Mercer: [long pause]
Campbell: That is a long pause.
Mercer: I don’t know what to say. I’m not a libertarian. The Tories can go in that direction, but I don’t have to.
Mercer: What do you think I should do?
Campbell: Off the record?
Mercer: On the record.
Campbell: Well, you came into politics not knowing whether you were Tory or Labour. You decided Tory was closer to what you think. You’ve achieved a fair bit of what you wanted to, but you’ve been stiffed badly by one Prime Minister, and even worse by his successor. I think you’re more likely to achieve what you want to by going the whole hog and saying to people, ‘If I can get Labour to do this, I will back them and get other people to back them, too.’ That is what I would do.
Mercer: You would do that if you were me?
Campbell: I would. You’re not a tribal Tory. I admit to a vested interest here as a Labour supporter. But I really do believe the best way to achieve what you want is to get Labour to commit to what you’re asking for.
Mercer: That would certainly make my life difficult – if Labour committed to my defining reason for being in politics, while the Tories remained where we are.
Despite this eyebrow-raising interaction, Guido understands Mercer has no plans to defect, his preferred style being to go down with the ship. Can the Chief Whip be sure all Tory MPs hold the same noble view?