Boris Johnson has pledged to bring back his former election guru Lynton Crosby in an attempt to restore order in No.10 and rescue his premiership.
The prime minister told a meeting of Tory MPs that Crosby, an Australian political strategist who ran Johnson’s successful 2008 London mayoral campaign, would give him regular strategic advice as part of a Downing Street shakeup.
The re-organisation follows the publication of Whitehall enforcer Sue Gray’s initial report into partygate.
It painted a picture of dysfunction and excessive drinking in Downing Street during the pandemic.
In her report — which she admitted was “extremely limited” due to a separate probe by the Metropolitan Police — Gray blamed “failures of leadership and judgment” in Number 10 and the Cabinet Office for the partygate scandal which has rocked Johnson’s government.
She said some of the gatherings she had investigated represented “a serious failure to observe not just the high standards expected of those working at the heart of government but also of the standards expected of the entire British population at the time”.
Giving a statement to the House, Johnson said he accepted Gray’s findings and promised an overhaul of the way Downing Street is run, including the creation of an office of the prime minister and a new permanent secretary in No.10.
At a meeting of the 1922 committee of backbench Conservative MPs following his Commons statement, Johnson’s allies repeatedly referred to the promised shake-up as the reason why the PM should be supported.
Cabinet minister Jacob Rees-Mogg said there was the “recognition” that staff in Downing Street had grown from a “handful” 30 years ago to “over 400 people”.
And he claimed Johnson struck the “right” tone with his statement to MPs — despite a reference to Labour leader Keir Starmer failing to prosecute paedophile Jimmy Savile landing badly with some.
“He was apologetic, he made it clear how sorry he was…and he took responsibility,” Mogg said. “What more could you ask for?”
Peterborough MP Paul Bristow welcomed the prime minister’s promise that No.10 would be “slimmer and more focused”.
“It’s been a difficult day…I was unsure about what the mood would be like — but I left absolutely pumped,” he told reporters.
Others, however, were less convinced by the prime minister’s performance.
Tobias Ellwood, chair of the defence select committee, ran out of the meeting to avoid talking to reporters, while another Tory MP said: “It was a loud and positive meeting but it felt a bit like the Alamo.”
One Tory MP told HuffPost UK that Johnson promised “a lot”, adding: “If he doesn’t deliver, he’s done for.”
Meanwhile, another Conservative said MPs were still disillusioned by Johnson’s “poor performance” at the dispatch box, and that any cheers and applause for the PM were the result of the whips being “strategically placed to clap and bang the walls”.
As well as meeting MPs, Johnson also attempted to bring more wavering backbenchers on side by indicating he would publish Gray’s report in full after the police’s investigation had concluded.
No.10 said in a statement that Johnson would ask Gray to “update her work in light of what is found” and that he would “publish that update”.
A handful of Tories had indicated that they would wait to see if Johnson would publish the full Gray report before deciding whether to submit a letter of no confidence in him, thereby triggering a vote on his leadership.