What is the mood of the Conservative party ahead of the Sue Gray report?

(left to right) Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Stephen Barclay and Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey. Credit: PA

What is the mood of the Conservative party ahead of the publication of the Sue Gray report? Well that depends on who you speak to. One MP said they felt the backbenches divided into two groups on the ongoing saga of partygate. "Half of colleagues think this is the nightmare that never ends," they said, "but half thinks it is just trumped-up nonsense." Speaking to MPs, and even ministers, in the first group highlights the strength of feeling. "It is not a happy time," said one, "it is grim," said another.

This photo, released by ITV News, of Boris Johnson drinking during lockdown has sparked fury. Credit: ITV News

One of the causes of the angst is the sense that the story is not going away, and a perception that Sue Gray has come under unfair pressure following a weekend of briefing and counter-briefing involving Downing Street and her team. But it is also other issues, like a lack of action so far on the cost-of-living crisis, said an MP. One source claimed the anger was enough to mean that more letters of no confidence in Boris Johnson had been submitted this week- with some reports suggesting the numbers could now be in the high 40s - close to the 54 needed to trigger a vote.

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"Much will depend on the reshuffle," said one senior figure. "If that results in more of the same the letter threshold will be met".

In terms of the reshuffle, one group that feels badly underrepresented around Johnson's top table are those in the one-nation group - or the more liberal wing of the party. One figure on that side of the party said there was no one to fight for their corner after Robert Buckland was sacked in the last reshuffle. On top of that Tom Tugendhat - chair of the foreign affairs select committee - told Times radio that it was time to look at what the country needs, saying his party should be "pretty ruthless" in its views. But it is not just them. On a very different wing of the party is Steve Baker - whose tweets make clear he is still furious.

And even if Mr Johnson survives the next few days, as most think he will, there is an arguably even tougher challenge around the corner. In June are two critical by-elections - Wakefield in the north, and Tiverton and Honiton in the south-west. If they are both lost - as many Tory MPs fear - then the narrative could not be worse for the prime minister, as it would mean losing ground in the Red Wall to Labour, and taking a battering in the blue wall to the Lib Dems. That is the sort of the outcome that would make Tory MPs extremely nervous about the future, and lead to more conversations about Mr Johnson's survival.