PM advised to ditch public focus on the red wall amid no-show at Doncaster summit

It was meant to be a much-needed marriage counselling session between Boris Johnson and northern MPs, several of whom indicated they had no confidence in him less than a fortnight before.

But it was not to be.

Perhaps it was never to be.

There was always something curious about the prime minister’s decision to accept the invitation to the Northern Research Group Conference, which represents the caucus of MPs keen on Mr Johnson maintaining his focus on the red wall rather than on the competing demands of southern Tories.

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It was odd that he should signal sympathy for one faction at this point in the electoral cycle.

Odd that he should want to come face to face with an audience containing so many critics – the former Tory mayoral candidate for Liverpool City happily telling Sky News he should quit.

And odd that it should come just at a point where concern about his stewardship of the campaign to retain traditional Tory heartlands is reaching unprecedented concern with the Tiverton by-election next week.

Sky News understands the PM is being advised to ditch his public focus on the red wall by cabinet colleagues.

Nevertheless, Mr Johnson did accept the invitation, probably because it came from head of the Northern Research Group Jake Berry, one of his few actual long-standing friends in parliament.

But in the final furlong, he didn’t turn out, even despite promises from Downing Street to conference organisers this morning that he was “on the train” to Doncaster.

Security concerns always remain paramount, but still MPs here are cross about what’s happening, and of what they see as needless dissembling.

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Boris Johnson travels to Kyiv again

Days of planning must have gone into today’s trip to Kyiv by the PM, all while actively pretending he would come.

One Tory MP at the Northern Research Group conference was utterly furious.

“This is the first test of outreach to his colleagues and he’s failed it,” they said.

Another said that Mr Johnson had “burned through” the goodwill of 40 MPs.

In public, the organiser Mr Berry said he was “disappointed” and the PM should listen to the demands and ideas aired today.

In the vacuum, Chancellor Rishi Sunak made a well-regarded appearance at the dinner the night before, and Tom Tugendhat confirmed his ambitions to succeed Boris Johnson.

There is utter cynicism in private amongst some Tory MPs that Mr Johnson chose a “photo-opportunity” with President Zelenskyy over a possibly difficult confrontation with colleagues – something Number 10 and other Tory MPs would furiously rebut, criticising this view for belittling the crisis and no Tory here would dare say publicly.

Nevertheless, today has not helped Mr Johnson with some colleagues, at a time when he can ill afford to anger the party and other bits of Downing Street are working hard to repair relations.

The marriage remains rocky.