One adviser told me recently that he found James Forsyth’s political column more useful for finding out what’s coming down the line than the meetings Number 10 holds for aides. As ever, James’ column in today’s Spectator is packed full of scoops, one of which has already been followed up by the Daily Mail.
He reveals that many Tory MPs find it depressing that Cameron has placed such emphasis on boundary reform, with one backbencher saying: ‘They don’t seem to think they can win an election by persuading people.’
Meanwhile, Boris Johnson has been invited to address the 1922 committee on how to win an election:
Were the boundary review to be thwarted, Cameron would face a big strategic choice. He could conclude that he was no longer likely to win a majority; in which case the priority would be to make the coalition work and keep Clegg in place. Any other Liberal Democrat leader would rather do a deal with Labour. Or he could decide that a majority was still possible given more boldness on the economy, reform and Europe. His circle is split on which course to take.
Complicating their thinking is the question of what the party will accept. The growing support for Boris Johnson among Conservative donors, commentators and even MPs is evidence of dissatisfaction with the current leadership. Despite not even being in parliament, Johnson is turning into the prince over the water. He has been invited to address the 1922 Committee of Tory MPs in September. The subject? How to win an election. His reception then will tell us a lot about whether Tory backbenchers really can see him as a leader or whether all the speculation is just Olympic high spirits.
Perhaps the best proof that Johnson’s stock is on the rise is that camp followers of the Prime Minister have taken to whispering into people’s ears about the Mayor’s weaknesses. ‘If the answer is Boris, it’s some question,’ said one, summing up the mood.
That’s not all, though. James also has intelligence on what the Prime Minister intends to plug the new legislative void recently vacated by Lords reform:
No. 10 is aware, though, that the biggest single influence on the mood of the party — the country, for that matter — is the economy. So Cameron intends to fill the hole left in the coalition’s legislative programme by the failure of Lords reform with economic measures. This legislation, being called the Jobs Bill in No. 10, will be made up of three parts: deregulation, infrastructure and industrial strategy. The precise composition of the bill is being hammered out. But the decision to include deregulation is recognition that attempts to make departments deregulate their own sectors have failed.