The MP paused to examine his telephone, sighed, and turned casually to a colleague ready at the identical raise in Portcullis Home. “Boris is inviting me for a chat,” he confided. “I haven’t made my mind up yet, what do you think?”
They talked in murmurs for a minute earlier than the MP checked his telephone once more and remembered an appointment. He slipped away leaving his extra harmless colleague unaware he had been expertly interrogated by a “sleeper”.
In the shady world of subterfuge and suspicion that makes a Tory leadership contest, the Sleeper is one of a forged of characters who inhabit Westminster. Low-profile MPs who have an effect on to be open-minded, their job is to attract others into unguarded revelations. Sleepers had been utilized by John Main’s staff in 1995 to smell out MPs who had falsely sworn loyalty to him whereas secretly backing John Redwood. “They use your friends to test you,” scowled a Brexiteer who has realized to be cautious of approaches.
Le Carré takes over from Erskine Could as a supply of parliamentary tradecraft. One other ruse is the “false coat trail”, when an MP purports to be drumming up assist for, say, Jeremy Hunt, whereas actually reporting reactions again to Michael Gove. The trick may winkle out the formidable backbencher who tries to ingratiate himself with multiple candidate.
An ex-minister who has taken half in 4 leadership contests is blunt. “Any candidate who doesn’t have a decent intelligence network deserves to be humiliated — and probably will be.”
The parliamentary Conservative Party has been referred to as the “most sophisticated electorate in the world”, which is a well mannered method of saying bare-faced liars. How MPs voted in the secret poll between 10am and 12pm right now could bear no relation to what they declared in public or promised in non-public. It’s why much less skilled marketing campaign managers had been dreading this afternoon’s opening of the poll field, when their capacity to evaluate the numbers can be laid naked. Some have far fewer supporters than they assured their candidate can be the case.
Extra is at stake than reputations, as a result of realizing when to leap off a crashing bandwagon is significant. A candidate who may yesterday have traded his endorsement in return for a promotion could have no leverage if eradicated unexpectedly. “Some have big decisions to make about whether to cash in their chips,” mentioned a rival staff’s adviser. “They might pick up more votes, but they could lose votes between now and the second ballot. The reality is that most MPs will now gravitate to the frontrunners.”
The godfather of the numbers recreation is Lyndon B Johnson, 36th US president, whose rule was “learn to count”. The textbook is Robert Caro’s Grasp of the Senate which describes LBJ’s meticulous vote-counting strategies that gained him affect and victories.
If a potential recruit is recognized, it’s reported again to the “numbers man” at HQ. Boris Johnson’s staff is managed by ex-MP James Wharton, however he additionally has the providers of former defence secretary Gavin Williamson, who has a chief whip’s counting capacity.
A marketing campaign supervisor could flatter a goal with an invite to fulfill the candidate. Michael Gove’s supervisor Mel Stride holds discreet dinners at his residence and is claimed to serve “the best food and wine of any of the campaigns”. One other approach is “blitzing”, the place an MP is bombarded with a propaganda message. It labored for Tony Blair in 1994, however is seen as counter-productive by seasoned Tory campaigners.
The grasp listing information supporters, hopefuls and those that may switch later. Accuracy is significant: no time to waste on MPs who can’t be persuaded. Secrecy is important: rivals are combating for the identical intelligence. Francis Maude shops the listing he saved for Mr Main’s 1990 bid in a financial institution vault. Cross-checking is necessary. Some MPs give false guarantees as a result of they’re scared to say no if a huge beast corners them. Others achieve this out of ambition. After the 2016 race, rival whips in contrast notes and discovered a North-West MP had assured his poll to every of them.
Safety is paramount. After crashing out in the first spherical of the 1997 contest, Peter Lilley realised there had been a spy in his camp when the votes had been counted and he had one fewer than the quantity of MPs on his staff.
With a third of Tory MPs but to disclose their intentions in public, nothing might be taken as a right. Which is why, for the subsequent seven days, Westminster will resemble East Berlin.