Amber Rudd was one of the more high profile ex-Tory MPs, quitting the cabinet and the party whip in protest at the way her colleagues who had rebelled on taking control of the order paper had been treated. It is therefore particularly awkward that her status has become the subject of such controversy.
This morning, it seemed the Hastings and Rye MP was headed back into the party fold along with the ten colleagues who were handed the whip back last night. Then she announced she was standing down as an MP but hoped to do so with the whip back in place after a ‘good meeting with the Prime Minister’. But shortly after this, Tory chief whip Mark Spencer sent her a letter telling her she wouldn’t be getting the whip back after all, because he didn’t trust her.
In a pretty brutal letter, Spencer told Rudd she had not provided sufficient assurances to him that she wouldn’t change back once again to saying she didn’t have confidence in Boris Johnson and expressing concern about his approach. He argues that ‘receipt of the whip is an honour, not a right and as such it cannot be discarded or returned at will if it is to have any meaning’.
Rudd had particularly angered Tory colleagues by the way in which she resigned, having first joined the cabinet arguing that she did trust Johnson. There had also been fears her resignation would spark an exodus of like-minded colleagues from the cabinet, though this did not materialise.
In this light, she has not been treated quite as brutally as some of her colleagues who remain on the outside, having failed to get the whip back last night. While some, such as Philip Hammond, have obviously burned their bridges, there are others who were genuinely seeking a reconciliation but say they were rebuffed for what seemed to them to be odd reasons.
What the chief whip’s approach to Rudd’s bid to return to the Tories shows is that the party is anxious not to let itself in for an election where Conservatives mouth off about the way the campaign is being run and the conduct of the Prime Minister.
There are pretty strong chances of these kinds of noises: no one is entering this election with any certainty about the result and there are many Tory MPs, including cabinet ministers, who think it could be disastrous. This is a shot across the bows to would-be critics that they’ll be expected to keep their worries to themselves.