Tories Hit Back at Whip 'Bullying' Claims and More Defection Rumours
The threat of backbench rebels forcing PM Boris Johnson to face a leadership contest has receded since Bury South MP Christian Wakeford crossed the floor to join the Labour opposition on Wednesday morning — prompting his erstwhile colleagues to close ranks in face of his treachery.
Tories have hit back at accusations that party whips tried to "bully" MPs into supporting Prime Minister Boris Johnson and claims of further defections to Labour.
East Surrey MP Claire Coutinho — who has been tipped for a future cabinet post — responded on Friday to fellow Conservative William Wragg's statement the previous day
during a televised parliamentary committee meeting.
Wragg claimed that he and others calling for the Johnson to resign over the 'Partygate' scandal had been threatened with withdrawal of government spending earmarked for their constituencies, and that whips had been briefing the media against them.
"Government whips work extremely long hours to deliver the Government's legislative agenda. They also don't have a voice to defend themselves," Coutinho tweeted in response.
She pointed out that Bury South, whose MP Christian Wakeford defected to the Labour Party
on Wednesday after weeks of secret talks with the opposition, had received tens of millions despite his many votes against the government.
Wragg has so far failed to respond to Johnson's challenge to produce evidence
for his allegations. Meanwhile, Wakeford's desertion has reduced the ranks of Johnson's opponents by one and prompted others to drop their calls for the PM to go.
A media feeding-frenzy ensued this week over rumours that almost enough Tory MPs had submitted letters
to the backbench 1922 Committee to trigger a leadership challenge over reports Downing Street staff guzzled wine and beer at work during the COVID-19 lockdown. Five of their number were reported to be ready to join Wakeford in changing sides.
Bishop Auckland MP Dehenna Davison denied reports she was the leader of the so-called "Pork Pie Plot" against Johnson
among Tory MPs in formerly safe 'Red Wall' Labour northern seats. The supposed rebellion was named for Alicia Kearns, the MP for Rutland and Melton — where the famous Melton Mowbray pork pie was first baked.
She also scotched claims she was planning to follow Wakeford in crossing the floor to the opposition benches, or even being involved in attempts to bring BoJo down.
"The first thing I knew about me leading a coup was when I read about it in today’s Daily Mail, which shows how much merit this story has," Davison told the Northern Echo
. "I also was surprised to learn today that I was apparently planning to defect to the Labour Party, something else that is totally fabricated and, as a proud Conservative, something I would never do."
The MP said she was "incredibly angry" about the Partygate scandal and Johnson's response to it
. But she stressed: “It will be for the Prime Minister himself, or the Conservative Party collectively, to decide the Prime Minister’s future."
“Of course, I have had a number of conversations with colleagues about this," Davison added, "but to suggest I’m leading a coup is bonkers."
No Honour Amongst Turncoats
North West Durham MP Richard Holden, another of the five rumoured Tory turncoats, was also quick to quash the speculation.
But local Labour Party branch chair Pat Glass, former MP for the seat, bizarrely claimed Holden had started the rumour himself just to get his name in the papers.
Glass announced in June 2016 that she would be standing down from the seat at the next election — which came the following year — because she had found that month's European Union (EU) membership referendum "bruising" and "incredibly divisive".
Glass had been forced to apologise
a month earlier after calling a voter, who did not support staying in the EU as she did, a "horrible racist". Her resignation as shadow education secretary was also seen as an attack on then-leader Jeremy Corbyn, coming two days after her predecessor Lucy Powell resigned in protest at his leadership during the Brexit campaign.
More irony was evident on Wednesday evening, when Ashfield MP Lee Anderson — himself a defector from Labour — was interviewed by his Parliamentary predecessor and former boss Gloria de Piero for her GB News show.
Anderson said it was "good riddance" to Wakeford, who fellow Conservatives in the House of Commons had already nicknamed "WOKE-ford".