Monday, 26 Oct 2020

Theresa May’s ex-adviser has warning for Boris as Tory revolt brews over UK lockdown

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Nicholas Timothy, Theresa May’s former chief of staff, has warned the Prime Minister there is “trouble brewing in the Tory party” over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Mr Timothy explains there is a growing divide with Tory MPs over the balance struck between health and the economy, despite the Prime Minister reaching a deal with disgruntled backbenchers to ensure Parliament has more say in future decisions.

The annual Conservative party conference began virtually this weekend and Mr Timothy said there would have been an “unmistakable feeling of apprehension in the air” if MPs and members were able to attend.

He said: “Apprehension not caused by Brexit, but the social and economic effects of the Government’s COVID-19 restrictions.

“Few MPs and members advocate a policy to just open up the economy and let the virus rip, but increasingly party supporters are starting to question whether ministers have got the balance right between minimising the health risk and letting firms get on with things.”

The former Downing Street adviser added behind closed doors “business leaders are angry” amid fears of mass unemployment and firms going under, after Mr Johnson announced the UK could face restrictions for another six months.

The Prime Minister is due to give a virtual speech on Tuesday, and Mr Timothy explained this could benefit the Prime Minister as traditional conferences can be a “nightmare” for leaders.

He explained party members often do not hold back on their feelings and ministers can often leak upcoming policies.

However, he added in these exceptional circumstances where leadership is vital, Mr Johnson could have done with being able to personally communicate with members and business leaders.

Writing in the Telegraph, Mr Timothy said: “At a normal party conference, all of this would come to the fore.

“MPs would be debating how to get the balance right at fringe meetings. Business leaders would address private dinners and public events.

“Members, disproportionately likely to run small businesses themselves, would be asking questions of ministers, and talking frankly to one another and on television vox pops.

“And there would be a great opportunity for the Prime Minister: to articulate his sense of mission, to communicate and lead. But that task will be so much harder staring down the lens of a camera.”

The Labour Party conference also took place virtually last week, where Sir Keir Starmer stressed the party was under new leadership and had to change in order to win elections.

Mr Timothy explained, Sir Keir would have left the conference without knowing how the party really felt, he said: “But while it was possible to see that Starmer was trying to lead, it was impossible to establish whether his party would follow.”

Without a traditional party conference, Mrs May’s former adviser indicated Mr Johnson and Sir Keir may risk deepening existing factions within the parties and called on the Prime Minister to tackle them “head-on”.

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He added: “This bizarre party conference season – and the seriousness of the crises we face beyond it – mean it is harder to see the challenges both Starmer and Boris Johnson face with their parties.

“The trouble brewing in the Tory Party is every bit as serious as that in Labour – and the PM will need to take it head-on.”

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