“IF Boris was still an MP, he would be PM by Christmas.”
That was not the verdict of a die-hard fan of the late king BoJo, but a former Cabinet minister who has loyally served every Tory PM since 2010.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt delivers his Autumn Statement[/caption]
They added: “Three months more of this and things are going to get hairy again.”
With the Government languishing in the high teens in some polls last week, even cooler heads are starting to panic.
One Tory whip — whose very job it is to install discipline and keep MPs on message — lamented: “We’re going to get tonked next year whatever we do.”
It is no wonder that big beasts such as Jacob Rees-Mogg are regularly using the word “existential” when discussing the party’s woes.
“No Prime Minister can survive three months at that level, despite the consequences,” the mournful ex-minister added.
Ironically, it is those “consequences” which give Rishi Sunak some gravity-defying security.
Most Tory MPs know they would kiss goodbye to any remaining credibility the party has if they attempt to foist a FOURTH leader on the electorate without the inconvenience of a general election.
But that has not stopped some of them going over the top.
One newish MP, who only joined the green benches thanks to a by-election in recent years, was overhead loudly declaring on the House of Commons terrace that they had sent in the letter demanding a vote of confidence in the PM.
While more that 50 names will be needed to trigger a vote of confidence, fewer than a dozen are actually thought to have done the deed.
But as the past 13 years of Tory government has shown, once that letters chat begins it is almost impossible to stuff it back in the bottle.
And Downing Street are not taking any chances, with MPs being told bluntly that another bout of regicide would mean an immediate general election.
And an immediate general election on those polling numbers most likely means an immediate P45 for most Tory MPs.
But the fightback is not just being left to menacing threats from the whips — No10 have poured a bucket of fuel on early election speculation once again with last week’s Autumn Statement.
“It’s a not very subtle way of telling his haters they don’t have time to come for him”, one cynical Government aide suggested of Sunak.
After a year of telling the public that tax cuts are impossible, Rishi finally spun the Tory wheel of fortune with £21billion of tax cuts.
And unlike last year under Liz Truss, the markets did not bat an eyelid — even though details of how to pay for them are pretty sketchy.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt essentially kicked £19billion of cuts to public spending to the other side of an election, which, if the polls are even half right, would be Labour’s problem.
P45 for Tory MPs
But No 10 insist it proves you can do big tax cuts “responsibly”, in a dig at Sunak’s short-lived predecessor.
And plans are already under way for next year’s Budget — that could be moved to February — adding to the election fever chatter after cuts to National Insurance contributions were brought forward to January.
The PM and Chancellor are getting on much better after Sunak did not use his recent reshuffle to put his own hire in the Treasury after inheriting Hunt.
Their young kids — and dogs — play together while the dads pore over spreadsheets, and there was even a sleepover at the PM’s Yorkshire farmhouse on Thursday evening for Mr Hunt.
Once again, Sunak’s reputation as an unlucky general bore fruit in recent days.
Attempts to get the Office of National Statistics to move publication of revised 750,000 net migration figures away from the morning after the Autumn Statement fell on deaf ears.
A big speech this week on migration and a tightening of rules on salary thresholds and letting in dependents looks a lot like a long-overdue attempt to shut the stable door stupidly late.
While tax cuts and getting real on the border are welcome, is it really going to be enough to reverse the doomsday polling numbers?
I sat in on a focus group in Leicestershire last week run by the More In Common group.
There was a cross-section of the public represented but a couple of things united them all.
More worrying for Sunak and Hunt though was the unity in the response when asked to sum up the state of Britain in one word.
As they went round the group, the answers were: “Shambles”, “broken”, “shambles”, f**ked, “difficult”, “f**ked”, “different”, “troubled” and “shambles”.
Rishi and Jeremy must know it is going to take more than £20billion in giveaways to win back that group . . . and keep serial leader-killing Tory MPs at bay.