Tories At War: Why Delaying The General Election Will Not Save Rishi Sunak

"Anyone with a majority of less than 15,000 is at risk," said one former minister.
Tories At War: Why Delaying The General Election Will Not Save Rishi Sunak
Tories At War: Why Delaying The General Election Will Not Save Rishi Sunak
Illustration:Jianan Liu/HuffPost; Photo:Getty Images

Monday night promises to be a gloomy affair for members of the Conservative parliamentary party.

Isaac Levido, Downing Street’s latest Australian election guru, will address a “special” meeting of the 1922 committee of backbench Tory MPs in Committee Room 9 at 6.15pm.

An email sent out by committee chairman Sir Graham Brady, seen by HuffPost UK, informed recipients that Levido will “brief colleagues on the latest polling”.

One Tory insider suggested the party “have mental health nurses stationed outside” when the meeting breaks up.

More than a year into his tenure as prime minister, and after multiple relaunches and policy announcements, Rishi Sunak has failed to narrow the yawning gap between his party and Labour.

Two polls this week put Keir Starmer’s party between 20 and 24 points ahead of their rivals.

The PM may have kicked the general election date into the long grass, but there is little to suggest that he will be able to narrow the deficit sufficiently before the country finally goes to the polls in the autumn.

“Anyone with a majority of less than 15,000 is at risk of losing their seat,” one former cabinet minister said.

“Maybe if there was an alien invasion that might make voters stick with the government, but short of that, the die has already been cast.”

Sunak’s authority will once again be on the line in the coming days when right-wing Tory MPs try to amend his emergency Rwanda legislation.

They believe that as currently drafted, the bill will not achieve its stated aim of finally getting deportation flights to the east African country off the ground.

Former immigration minister Robert Jenrick is leading the rebel charge by tabling amendments which would allow the government to ignore rulings by the European Court of Human Rights, as well as make it harder for asylum seekers to appeal.

Among the 30 or so backbenchers backing him is Jacob Rees-Mogg, who said: “Passing an ineffective bill would make the government look hopeless.

“In many ways it would be better to do nothing than to fail again, because this is, actually, the third go at trying to get people deported to Rwanda.

“And there are many MPs including me, who believe the bill lacks clarity and is, in some sense, a bit moth eaten.”

Others, however, suspect Jenrick’s newly-discovered hardline streak is driven by a desire to succeed Sunak after the Tories lose the election.

“He’s positioning himself as a leadership contender but forgetting that no one likes him,” said one colleague.

While Downing Street says it is willing to listen to those who want to change the bill, the PM knows he has precious little room for manoeuvre. Any attempt to assuage his right-wingers risks losing the support of the One Nation group of moderate Conservatives.

One source told HuffPost UK: “The government needs to not budge and, most importantly, not break international law.”

The ill-feeling between both wings of the party was on display on Tuesday night, when leading One Nation member Matt Warman roasted the various right-wing Tory groupings, who like to call themselves the “five families”.

He told a gathering of like-minded Tories that the Common Sense Group is “like a democratic republic pretending it actually is a democratic republic”, and pointed out that the New Conservatives have never won more than one election.

“We know that the Conservative Party wins elections when when it fights them from the centre ground,” he said.

“We know that we can’t re-write our international obligations for our self-interest.”

Responding to his comments, one right-wing MP told Politico: “There are more of us than there are of them, so they can fuck off because they’re all c*nts.”

One senior Conservative aide told HuffPost UK that the row presents Sunak with an opportunity to re-assert some control over his warring party.

“This seems to be a perfect opportunity for the PM to reject pretty much all of the amendments from all sides,” they said.

“What are the ‘five families’ actually going to do? Crash the bill by voting against the very thing they want?”

2024 is less than a fortnight old and already it is shaping up to be just as underwhelming for the prime minister as 2023.

His only consolation is that by the time 2025 comes round, trying to turn the Conservatives into a unified political force will very likely be someone else’s problem.


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