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This week in Tortoise – Shadow whipping: The men who saved Boris

This week in Tortoise – Shadow whipping: The men who saved Boris

How has Boris Johnson seemingly got away with it? The answer is not what you might think. It’s not just Ukraine or Tories not liking the alternatives. It’s “shadow whipping”, the behind-the-scenes effort in Westminster to pick off wavering Conservative MPs and buy their loyalty with offers of jobs, promises of ministerial advancement and pledges of government money for local projects. 

Six weeks ago, Boris Johnson looked as though “Partygate” was set to cost him the premiership. The public was outraged; Tory MPs were lining up to send in the necessary 54 letters to trigger a leadership contest. Some Conservative MPs, the so-called “Pork Pie Plotters”, were considering calling for him to resign. On Wednesday 19 January, the moment of peak peril for the prime minister, Christian Wakeford, the Conservative MP for Bury South, defected to Labour. 

But there were three other men plotting. Three Conservative MPs were planning Johnson’s survival, identifying the potential rebels and working out what inducements and intimidation might be needed to keep them on side. This week’s Slow Newscast is an investigation by Lara Spirit into real politics. It’s Shadow whipping: The men who saved Boris.

And, if you want to see how politicians can and do change their minds, then Katie Riley has charted the shifting attitudes of Conservative MPs towards the prime minister over the last two months in a striking piece of data journalism.

This week’s ThinkIns:

If you’re a Newsroom Member or a Friend of Tortoise, then the latest edition of the Tortoise Quarterly – Anniversary – should have landed through your letterbox this weekend with pieces on Watergate, the attack on the Munich Olympic Games, the life of Jack Kerouac and more. If you’d like to read it – and I suspect you’ll love it – then you can go to the Tortoise shop and order a copy

Our coverage of Ukraine is focused on concise daily analysis of the developments that matter in the Sensemaker; ThinkIns that examine the options and different points of view; investigations into, among other things, Russian money in London and the international information war; and, every day, we try to get a better understanding by hearing from people on the frontlines and fleeing for their lives in Invaded: Voicemails from Ukraine. Please do listen; and, as ever, we’re interested to hear what you think.


James Harding
Editor & co-founder