It was a much-needed marriage counseling session between Boris Johnson and Northern MPs, several of whom indicated they had no confidence in him less than a fortnight before.
But it was not to be.
Maybe that was never meant to happen.
There was still something curious about the Prime Minister’s decision to accept the invitation to the conference from the Northern Research Group, which represents the caucus of MPs keen for Mr Johnson to continue to focus on the red wall rather than the the competing demands of southern conservatives.
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It was odd that he showed sympathy for a faction at this point in the election cycle.
Strange that he wants to come face to face with an audience containing so much criticism – with the former Tory candidate for mayor of Liverpool City gleefully telling Sky News he should quit.
And strange that it comes just at a time when concern over his handling of the campaign to retain the traditional Tory heartland is reaching unprecedented concern with Tiverton’s by-election next week.
Sky News understands the Prime Minister is being asked to drop his public focus on the red wall by cabinet colleagues.
Nonetheless, Mr Johnson accepted the invitation, probably because it came from Northern Research Group chief Jake Berry, one of his few longtime friends in Parliament.
But in the last furlong, it did not turn outeven despite promises from Downing Street to conference organizers this morning that he was “on the train” for Doncaster.
Security concerns still remain paramount, but MPs here are still unhappy with what is happening and what they see as an unnecessary cover-up.
Days of planning must have gone into today’s trip to Kyiv by the prime minister, while actively pretending he would come.
A Tory MP at the Northern Research Group conference was downright furious.
“This is his colleagues’ first sensitization test and he failed,” they said.
Another said Mr Johnson had ‘burnt out’ the goodwill of 40 MPs.
In public, the organiser, Mr Berry, said he was “disappointed” and the Prime Minister should listen to the demands and ideas being broadcast today.
In a vacuum, Chancellor Rishi Sunak made a remarkable appearance at dinner the day before, and Tom Tugendhat confirmed his ambitions to succeed Boris Johnson.
There is utter cynicism privately among some Tory MPs that Mr Johnson chose a ‘photo opportunity’ with Speaker Zelenskyy over a possibly tough showdown with colleagues – something Number 10 and other Tory MPs would furiously refute, criticizing this view to minimize the crisis and no conservative here would dare to say so publicly.
Nonetheless, today has not helped Mr Johnson with some colleagues, at a time when he can ill afford to anger the party and other parts of Downing Street are working hard to mend relations.
The marriage remains rocky.
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