Tory rebels consider publishing secret recordings supporting blackmail claims

Elliot Chappell
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor
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Conservative rebels are considering publishing secretly recorded conversations and text messages to support claims of blackmail and intimidation by the government. A group of Tory MPs – dubbed the ‘pork pie plotters’ – accused the whips of threatening to withdraw funding from their constituencies and aides of smearing them in the press with unsubstantiated claims about their drinking habits and personal lives. No 10 has denied the claims, but do the Conservative backbenchers have the means to substantiate the allegations? According to The Times, yes. The rebels reportedly met last night to discuss how to proceed, and a source close to the group told the paper that one has a recording of a “heated conversation” they had with chief whip Mark Spencer.

William Wragg MP kicked off the blackmail row on Thursday, accusing Downing Street of issuing threats over opposition to Boris Johnson. The senior Conservative backbencher said ministers informed him there would be embarrassing stories leaked if MPs did not support the Prime Minister, and urged colleagues to contact the Metropolitan Police. Angela Rayner described the allegations as “grave and shocking” and Labour has called for a full investigation. The newest recruit to the opposition party’s ranks – defector Christian Wakeford MP – backed up Wragg’s claims, saying he was told that plans for a new high school in his constituency could be scrapped unless he voted a certain way. A neat recording of the chief whip leaning on backbenchers could hammer another nail in the coffin of Johnson’s premiership, but certainly represents a nuclear option. Let’s see whether the Tory rebels push the button.

Away from the blue-on-blue turmoil, Bury South Constituency Labour Party (CLP) held its first meeting since their Tory MP defected to the party. Wakeford was not in attendance, but the packed (virtual) meeting of 77 members heard that a special meeting will take place next Wednesday where he will address the local party. Their MP’s voting record and statements on various issues have been cause for concern since the leadership welcomed Wakeford into the party on Wednesday. CLP chair Paddy Heneghan said afterwards, however, that it was a “constructive meeting” in which “members welcomed the fact we now had a Labour MP”. LabourList was told that around half the speakers focused on how the defection was helpful to Labour – but many were clear that Wakeford has work to do to win trust of members and voters, and the need for a fair, timely selection process was raised.

Rachel Reeves used a speech in Bury yesterday to set out Labour’s five-point plan for a “stronger economy”, with a vision for a Britain that is “industrial”, “learning”, “investing”, “innovative” and “trading”. The Shadow Chancellor warned voters that backing the Conservatives again would lead to “another lost decade of low growth, high taxes and a deepening cost of living crisis” – whereas Labour would offer “economic security” and “resilient public services”. Read her full speech here. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.

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