Rishi Sunak Clings On As Tory MPs Lose The Plot (Again)

Disgruntled Conservatives believe changing PM once more is the only way to prevent a cataclysmic election defeat.
Can Rishi Sunak survive until the general election?
Can Rishi Sunak survive until the general election?
Damon Scheleur/HuffPost

If a Hollywood scriptwriter came up with the storyline, it would be instantly dismissed as too far-fetched.

Even House of Cards, the seminal tale of political intrigue at the heart of power - written by a Tory peer, incidentally - did not go this far.

Incredibly, there is a growing number within the Conservative Party who believe that installing the fourth prime minister of this parliament is a desirable state of affairs.

The alternative, the anti-Rishi Sunak plotters believe, is to stand back and watch as Keir Starmer sweeps to power with a Tony Blair-style Commons majority.

Simon Clarke, the former cabinet minister and a man who backed both Boris Johnson and Liz Truss to the hilt, spoke for many Conservatives this week when he said the PM must be ousted to prevent the party being “massacred” at the general election.

The Middlesborough South and East Cleveland MP, who was Sunak’s number 2 at the Treasury in Johnson’s government, told the BBC: “No one likes the guy who’s shouting ‘iceberg’. But I suspect that people will be even less happy if we hit the iceberg. And we are on course to do that.”

The backlash against Clarke by Tory MPs was swift and brutal, but that does not mean he is a lone wolf. The plotters, who include right-wing peer Lord Frost, believe time is on their side.

Upcoming by-elections in Wellingborough and Kingswood are not expected to go well for the Conservatives, with May’s local elections across England and Wales also set to be a bloodbath for the party.

Faced with such stark evidence of Sunak’s electoral toxicity, the plotters believe, enough Tory MPs would be willing to take the radical step of ditching yet another leader in order to potentially save their seats at the general election.

The anti-Sunak faction were bolstered by a mega-poll last week which suggested Labour are on course for a landslide.

The survey of 14,000 people by YouGov was commissioned by yet another Tory grouping, the Conservative Britain Alliance, paid for by persons unknown. We do know, however, that one of those involved was Will Dry, Sunak’s former pollster.

He quit No.10 before Christmas and this week said the Tories are “heading for the most almighty of defeats” with his former boss at the helm.

The smart money at Westminster is still on Sunak somehow keeping the Tory show on the road until his preferred election date of November 14, not least because his enemies can’t agree on who out of Kemi Badenoch, Suella Braverman, Penny Mordaunt and Rob Jenrick should replace him.

One Conservative insider told HuffPost UK: “Tory leaders are always vulnerable - never dismiss the sheer lunacy of some MPs.

“However, I think most will take the view that Rishi is the PM we have and we have to fight hard to retain as many seats as we can. To change leader again isn’t going to shift the polls by magic, if anything it will anger the electorate even more. It’s simply pie in the sky stuff to think otherwise.

“And no one can decide which person is really the answer - each faction has its own ‘favourite’ and is busy telling all the other factions they are wrong. Hardly coherent or joined up, is it?”

Sunak may well end up being saved by the sheer ineptitude of his opponents.

“To nick a phrase from Blackadder - a war hasn’t been fought this badly since Olaf the Hairy, high chief of all the vikings, accidentally ordered 80,000 battle helmets with the horns on the inside,” one source said.

A senior MP described the attempts to oust Sunak as “more plop than plot”, while others it is all really about positioning for the leadership race which will follow a thumping Tory election defeat.

Labour, meanwhile, are happy to hold the jackets on the sidelines as the Conservative civil war continues.

Intriguingly, some around Starmer remain convinced that Sunak will end up calling a May election - a contest which, on current polling numbers, Labour would win easily.

“The longer this farce goes on, the more obvious it is that the country needs change,” said one senior Labour source.

“There’s obviously no complacency, but we are ready for whenever he calls it.”


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