Nick Boles is getting a roasting in Number 10 tonight for his comments in The Times about the Eastleigh by-election, I understand.
There was considerable disquiet about the interview, in which the Planning Minister said his party had run a ‘truly rotten campaign’ and failed to convey the modernisation message.
“Where was the hope? It was as if modernisation had never happened. We screwed it up. We didn’t even screw up in a new way. We screwed it up in an old way that we have been doing for a decade. It’s so frustrating.”
This was apparently Boles doing his own thing rather than a decision from the top that someone needed to go out to the media and be clear that no-one blamed Maria Hutchings for the Conservatives coming third in the by-election.
In the interview, Boles said he had been banned from joining the campaign because the appearance of the Planning Minister might upset voters, given the battle was on ‘protecting green spaces’. But this criticism surprised backbenchers who had been to Eastleigh, as they felt he might not have grasped the full nature of the campaign. Boles has declined to comment.
Tonight’s meeting is part of the overall drive for message discipline in the party. Last night Lynton Crosby told MPs they were participants, not commentators, and the leadership is aiming for the same restraint all the way up through the ranks.