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Jamie Stone: Nothing to lose – even if Boris isn't out by summer

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Jamie's Journal by Jamie Stone

Jamie Stone wonders how long PM Boris Johnson will hold on.
Jamie Stone wonders how long PM Boris Johnson will hold on.

Back in 1979 – when I was young and foolish – I made a bet that I had cause to regret. It was this – that in the forthcoming General Election, the Labour Party would win (a bottle of whisky on that) and that for every 10 seats of a majority, a pint of beer was also staked either way.

Well, as we know, Maggie Thatcher won it, and J Stone was somewhat out of pocket. So a health warning is attached to what you are about to read – because I am going to reach for my crystal ball.

But first, let me hark back to the muddy lanes of North Shropshire and the by-election that took place last month. Rock solid Tory, you would have thought – it had been so for nearly 200 years – and yet. Again and again, the name Boris Johnson had people giving vent to their feelings in no uncertain terms.

To tell the truth, I could hardly believe what I was hearing. Were all these Conservative households really going to vote against the Conservative government? Or, as many told me, not bother to vote at all?

On the eve of poll, I asked David Davis, the man who almost led the Conservative Party, what he thought would happen in the by-election. (This was as we queued up for our breakfast in Westminster).

“You’ll win it. I’ve absolutely no doubt about it.”

“Really? You think we will overturn a Tory majority of 23,000?”

But as we know, he got it absolutely right. It turned out to be one of the most sensational results that I have ever seen.

So the mist clears in the crystal in front of me. How long will Boris hang on? If Shropshire is anything to go by, his number is up. But the question is, when exactly will the necessary number of Tory MPs write in to the chairman of the 1922 Committee, Sir Graham Brady, asking for there to be a leadership election?

My prediction, for what it’s worth, is that it will happen before the summer. If I turn out to be wrong? Ah well, it is very sensible of me not to have bet a bottle of whisky on it.

Here’s a second prediction, arising from the first. A new Conservative leader, and Prime Minister, will want to bed in and stack up a few achievements before calling the next General Election. Therefore I feel in my bones that we may have a longer wait than if Boris were to stay in the job.

The third prediction is almost a hope rather than a bet – that we will finally see off Covid and return to a more normal life. The British public have been extraordinarily patient with all of this, and we could all do with a break, not least our frontline health staff and other key workers.

I close with an anecdote. The last time there was a Conservative leadership election was when Theresa May was challenged – i.e. when Sir Graham Brady finally received the requisite number of letters from Tory MPs saying that she ought to be replaced.

“Well, I think you’ll find that the starting gun will be fired on the Tory leadership, probably next Monday.” This was John, the nice postie chatting to me in my office one morning.

“Eh?” said I. “John, how could you possibly know that?”

“Don’t be silly Jamie – think about it. Who delivers the letters to Sir Graham? I do. And I’ve been counting!”

Jamie Stone.
Jamie Stone.
  • Jamie Stone is the Liberal Democrat MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross.

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