IT seems Tory HQ has sent out a message to their foot-in-mouth ministers – “Mum’s the Word’”.

In the last frantic days of the election campaign, Tory ministers are keeping a very low profile in a damage limitation exercise designed to draw attention away from their woeful record in government, their dubious allegiances and their lack of forward planning on Brexit. Someone, somewhere, has sent a memo to say, “stay schtum”. If they can just keep the big gobs quiet, then maybe, just maybe, they can sneak an election victory over the line.

One by one over the last few weeks, Tory MPs have been picked off and put on the back burner after astonishingly insensitive faux pas, heartless defences of their colleagues and utter incompetence and lack of knowledge on key policy matters. The most obvious Tory liability is of course Jacob Rees-Mogg, who has basically been in hiding since his shameful comments on the Grenfell fire victims.

Other notable absences include the hapless Trade Secretary, Liz Truss, who has kept a low profile since being skewered by Andrew Neil on her party’s woeful social care and housing policies. After an arrogantly opinionated start to the campaign, Home Secretary Priti Patel is now avoiding hustings in her constituency following the horrifying terror attack on London Bridge, which exposed the gap between her tough rhetoric on crime and sentencing and her party’s factual cuts to the prison service.

James Cleverley put a tentative toe in the water on last Thursday’s Question Time following a period of silence after his embarrassing empty chair incident with Kay Burley on Sky News. Andrea Leadsom and Esther McVey seem to be missing in action and, as for Mark Francois, where is the TA mascot when you need a crazy World War Two soundbite on “getting Brexit done”?

The last few standing and allowed out beyond curfew include the ever-eager Sajid Javid, wheeled out to bat for his leader and “misremember” the facts. Matt Hancock keeps putting his head above the parapet while studiously avoiding scrutiny, and a very manic Michael Gove pops up even when he’s not invited, never one to miss an opportunity to get his face on the telly, distract from the bigger picture and gaslight the nation. As for Dominic Raab, no one seems to care what happens to him these days, he’s been left to his own devices, the sacrificial robot.

However, this conspiracy of silence is not going strictly to plan if comments made by the Conservative Sally-Ann Heart are anything to go by. In a rare moment of Tory candidness, the candidate for Hastings and Rye suggested that disabled people or those with learning difficulties should be paid less when working since they “don’t understand money”. Hard to imagine that someone with a beating pulse could hold such an appallingly discriminatory attitude. As I type this, I imagine the men in white coats from Tory HQ will be swooping in to shuffle Ms Heart-less off to the same stately home rehab centre as Rees-Mogg.

Despite the odd fly in the ointment, the Conservatives are hoping this policy of hide and seek will pay off for them on December 12. As pollsters try to predict the result next week, the percentages show that not much has changed since the start of the campaign, with Johnson still in the lead despite his low popularity rating. In an election dominated by issues of trust and accountability, the Tories’ edited and glossed-over version of themselves might just be a good move. Out of sight, out of mind. A case of better the devil you know.

They’re not taking anything for granted though with the most absent voice belonging to their leader, Boris Johnson. Absent but present that is, like a disinterested parent on his phone while the children desperately vie for his attention.

That’s just the way Johnson likes it – no Andrew Neil one-to-one, no Channel 4 climate debate, no Julia Etchingham interview, empty chair at hustings, no difficult questions on Islamophobia or his nasty rhetoric, his abhorrent comments on single mothers, ethnic minorities, his homophobia, unpublished Russian reports, not too much pushing by Peston on details of non-existent trade deals. He prefers the cut and thrust of the comfy sofa on This Morning and a selfie with Phil and Holly.

As other leaders, party members and councillors fall by the way side one by one over their alleged unsavoury commentary, Johnson is the last man standing, seemingly immune from every prejudiced and nauseating clickbait comment he has ever committed to the page. What could he be avoiding, one wonders? What does he not want to talk about? Where to start? Any small shift in the polls or rumour that his majority is under threat in his own seat makes Johnson scurry for the cover of darkness, far from scrutiny and accountability. Nothing to see here.

WHILE it’s all quiet on the Westminster front, there’s plenty going on behind the scenes, away from the mainstream media glare. Johnson’s campaign team is taking a calculated risk by avoiding the brutal Neil treatment on TV, for instance. Far better to focus on targeted micro-messaging via social media that they can fully control, a veritable powerhouse of Facebook advertising, carefully honed to appeal to individuals across the UK.

Depending on how Remain your area is, Johnson’s advertising team can omit his offending face from their online campaign in pro-EU London for instance, while placing Bojo front and centre in the more tub-thumping Leave constituencies dotted around the country. Then it’s just up to the viral internet fairies to spread the word. As for the truth? You can bet your Bentley that the facts don’t get a look in in the shadowy recesses of digital politics.

When a party of government pretends that the public are sick of politicians being questioned on their record and policy, it’s left to the voters to join the dots. When information on the future is thin on the ground, legacy is what matters. And this is what the Tories can’t escape no matter how much they try to control the narrative and put their party members on mute.

They can’t discount voters’ lived experiences – UK working families on the breadline, nurses and doctors worn out by lack of resources and cuts, destitute children, single mothers who can’t heat their homes, widespread hardship, cruel and callous welfare sanctions, the huge rise in foodbank usage and homelessness, the WASPI women, pensioners, the elderly, the disabled, the vulnerable, all sacrificed in the name of austerity.

Or, to put it more candidly using the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Poverty, Philip Alston’s comments on the “workhouse conditions” of Tory Britain, “the systematic immiseration of a significant part of the British population”.

And then of course there is Brexit and the great myth of just getting it done. Rumours abound that even Johnson regards deal or No Deal as a necessary evil to muddle through and squeeze out the other end however dishevelled and reduced we’ll be on the world stage. That’s not what he is saying in the rare moments we see him in public of course, but when pressed, he is very light on detail about how to actually “Brexit” in the time left available and when this end point will be reached.

The lighter the detail, the heavier the price. Because while our protected, privileged PM evades and obfuscates, it’s British citizens who will have to worry about food and medicine shortages, losing their jobs, further cuts to wages and public services sold to the highest bidder. NHS anyone?

Ultimately, this keep quiet and carry on approach can only work in the short term. If we all wake up on Friday to an unlucky election result, with many of these silent MPs still standing and a further five years of Tory government, they’ll only have themselves to blame. There will be no safe hiding place when the reality of what the Conservatives have carelessly wrecked on the nation hits home. In the harsh glow of an oven-ready dawn, Boris’ half-baked Brexit will leave a very bitter after-taste. And the public will be hungry for answers.