2022 likely won’t go down as one of Conor Burns’s favourite years. Not only did his best mate get forced out of the premiership, his life was temporarily ruined by an absurd farce during party conference, after a junior whip spotted him at the bar with a young man. The lack of any impropriety didn’t stop Wendy Morton stripping Conor of both his job and the party whip, only for Rishi’s government to re-admit him to the party after a total failure by Truss’s Whips office to even receive a complaint about Conor’s actions at the Hyatt bar. Not for lack of trying, with the young man in question repeatedly approached to try and get a complaint submitted…
Last night, any hacks standing outside No. 10 may have been surprised to see Conor Burns confidently marching into Downing Street – through the front door rather than the quieter Cabinet Office entrance. It sounds like the PM and Burns coordinated the meeting to defrost relations after Conor’s shocking treatment by the party.
While there’s no ministerial vacancy to allow Burns straight back into government – bar Gavin Williamson’s old job – it’s thought readmitting him will be a priority whenever one arises/when Rishi decides to hold a reshuffle. He may still get some interim non-ministerial role to tide him over. Taking to Instagram, Burns wrote, “After the turbulence of recent months it was good to have a quiet conversation with the Prime Minister last night.” Leaving the topic of conversation to the imagination…
Wendy Morton has finally spoken publicly about that fateful night in the division lobby the night before Liz resigned, when both she and then-Deputy Chief Whip announced they’d resigned then un-resigned in the space of about ten seconds, and the government fell apart for the second time in three months. It might feel like a lifetime ago. It’s actually only been a month.
Appearing on Politics Live, Morton relived the carnage in full, explaining that she had offered her resignation after Number 10 “interfered” in the vote at the eleventh hour by insisting it wasn’t a confidence motion, despite Morton insisting it was:
“It was one of those nights that I’ll probably never forget… it was a confidence vote… we were expecting colleagues to be in the lobby with us, so when the exchange came at the despatch box that it wasn’t [a confidence vote], you can see what ensued, which was chaos… I offered my resignation on the basis that Number 10 were interfering and I feel so strongly about the integrity of the Chief Whip and the red lines that I have. But the Prime Minister would not accept my resignation, so I continued…”
She didn’t mention that there was an outside chance of losing a confidence vote on the issue of fracking and causing a general election – an odd risk for a chief whip to take, for no observable gain
She then claimed to have somewhat mended her relationship with Truss – they’re getting on “fine” – and insisted Liz was dealt a rough hand from the start of her premiership.
The performance of the Whips office at a critical point in that premiership certainly didn’t make it any smoother.
Given the Lobby has the attention span of an ADHD child after a bag of Haribo, Suella Braverman must be thanking her lucky stars that Gavin Williamson was around to take the resignation pressure off her.
This weekend saw an escalation of media scrutiny after the Mail on Sunday and Sunday Times both received convenient leaks of the ‘abusive’ texts he sent to the then-chief whip Wendy Morton. Rishi and Gavin’s Cabinet Office boss Oliver Dowden have both condemned his language.
A co-conspirator with a long memory has been in touch, however, to relay a fascinating 2006 story from the Northern Echo, in which a spritely and youthful Cllr Morton was one of five Tory councillors accused of bullying senior officers. Allegations that saw Morton quit her seat alongside her husband:
Mrs Morton, who represented Bolton Castle ward and will stand for the Conservatives in Tynemouth, North Tyneside, at the next General Election, was one of five councillors accused of bullying two officers amid claims that a new political group, the Independent Coalition for Richmondshire (ICR), was formed illegally.
It was then claimed by one of the ICR group councillors that Wendy had “failed to apologise to the officer” alleged to have been bullied.
The five councillors, including Wendy, were found guilty of bullying by a council investigation, but were later cleared by the Standards Board for England. Perhaps a lesson in hastily jumping to conclusions and demanding resignations…
The chaos over last night’s Back Frack or Sack vote is, somehow, still ongoing. Now Anne-Marie Trevelyan has just claimed on the media round that it wasn’t a confidence vote, and there will be “strong constituency reasons why MPs did not vote” with the Government. This will surprise any MP who read this message from Downing Street at 1:33am last night:
“The prime minister has full confidence in the chief and deputy chief whip. Throughout the day, the whips had treated the vote as a confidence motion. The minister at the despatch box was told, mistakenly, by Downing Street to say that it was not.”
However, Conservative MPs were fully aware that the vote was subject to a three line whip. The whips will now be speaking to Conservative MPs who failed to support the government. Those without a reasonable excuse for failing to vote with the government can expect proportionate disciplinary action.”
For those struggling to keep up: Downing Street announced it was a confidence motion, then Graham Stuart claimed at the despatch box that it wasn’t, then the Chief Whip and Deputy Chief Whip briefly resigned and un-resigned, then Downing Street said Liz has “full confidence” in a whip who reportedly doesn’t “give a f*ck“, then MPs were told it was a confidence motion after all… only for the government line to then seemingly change again by the morning round.
For what it’s worth, Guido’s spoken to several rebellious MPs who, as of this morning, still have no idea if they’ve lost the whip or not. Strap in for another day…
Multiple MPs tell Guido and The Sun that Wendy Morton is out as Chief Whip. More to come…
UPDATE: Guido understands the deputy Chief Whip, Craig Whittaker, has gone as well.
Five days ago Tom Newton Dunn revealed Liz had wanted to sack the Chief Whip, only being stopped by Therese Coffey. Where was Therese this evening?
UPDATE 21:45: Steve Baker says he has it from the horses’ mouth that neither the Chief Whip or her Deputy have resigned.
UPDATE 22:00: No10 finally confirms that Chief and deputy chief whip remain in post
Guido thought James Cleverly hiring former BBC star Giles Dilnot as his media SpAd would be the highest-profile addition to the SpAd world. News from the Chief Whips’ office knocks Dilnot out of the park, however. Guido hears former child acting star-turned Tory spinner Skandar Keynes has been hired as an advisor in Wendy Morton’s new No. 12 Downing Street office. Skandar will be well-known to a lot of Gen-Z politicos, after starring as Edmund in the hit 2005 adaptation of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe…
Does Skandar’s appointment signify a new ‘Ice Queen’ approach to keeping the troops in line by Wendy Morton? MPs will be hoping her new right-hand man lives up to his on-screen moniker of ‘King Edmund the Just’. Guido looks forward to the next publication of the SpAd’s register of interests: will Skandar be able to avoid the Turkish Delight temptations from lobbyists?
Read Guido’s current SpAd list in full below: