UK Politics

Leakers: you're out

Boris Johnson Image copyright UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor
Image caption The prime minister has promised a reshuffle of top posts soon

Boris Johnson is a recently elected prime minister with an 80-strong majority who also happens to be on the verge of carrying out a major reshuffle.

And when it comes to wielding power over your MPs in Westminster, a PM's position doesn't get much stronger than that.

Existing ministers know this well, as do those MPs who aspire to climb the ladder.

Such people are therefore currently engaged in a prolonged act of persuasion as they try to prove their worth.

And there are ways to impress. Julian Smith has recently been seen to distinguish himself as Northern Ireland secretary after playing his part in finally getting Stormont up and running again.

But there are, of course, ways to depress your chances as well.

And one of those, I'm told, is to be a "leaker".

Someone who for example, after a cabinet meeting, goes beyond the stories and soundbites that were sanctioned for public consumption.

One senior Whitehall source, when forecasting the fortunes of ministers who "spill their guts" to journalists, said sardonically "Good luck to them."

It's a red warning signal, to those who've been found out, that they're now set to be squeezed out.

Why is leaking so frowned upon? Rogue leaks are perceived as a sign of weakness. You may remember how Theresa May's government gained, at times, a somewhat sieve-like reputation.

It added to the idea that the prime minister had lost her grip. That her authority was collapsing. And one Julian Smith, the then chief whip, infamously described the situation as the "worst example" of cabinet ill-discipline in British political history.

In a similar vein, it's also about control.

Boris Johnson's team has already shown some ability for keeping on message with near-military discipline, as demonstrated by the unashamed repetition of the phrase "Get Brexit Done" by the prime minister during the recent general election.

So perhaps he's now looking for a similar level of self-control from those politicians who want to have a seat around the top table.

Even leaks that lead to positive coverage about the PM's plans are being viewed dimly.

"Take back control" was, of course, another successful political slogan.

And it seems that now Downing Street has control, it's not at all keen on giving it up.

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