Mood among Tory MPs darkens as Sunak faces leadership questions

Mood among Tory MPs darkens as Sunak faces leadership questions
Mood among Tory MPs darkens as Sunak faces leadership questions

We show you our most important and recent visitors news details Mood among Tory MPs darkens as Sunak faces leadership questions in the following article

Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - LONDON — The mood in the Conservative Party is dark, and it has noticeably darkened over the past few days.

Why? Last week was not a good week for Rishi Sunak, to say the least. First Lee Anderson, who had been suspended from the Conservative ranks over comments he made about Sadiq Khan, joined Reform, the insurgent right-wing party.

Then came the reporting of alleged comments made by Frank Hester, a mega-donor to the Conservative Party.

Generally Conservative MPs seem content with Sunak's decision to keep hold of the £10m he gave the party last year, but there is definite frustration at the prime minister's handling of the revelations, especially the initial decision not to condemn the reported comments as racist.

But there are more fundamental reasons that the vibe appears to have shifted among Conservatives. One is the state of the opinion polls.

Conservative MPs can see the same polls as the public. They suggest that their party is headed not just for a defeat at the general election but for a very, very bad defeat.

Many MPs, even those who have long reconciled themselves to the strong possibility of defeat, had thought that the gap with the Labour Party would have narrowed by now.

There's also frustration that the Budget earlier this month appeared to do nothing to affect the polls. One former minister said they had seen the Budget as the "last big needle mover" — but that despite a significant personal tax cut, nothing appeared to have changed.

While the prime minister last week ruled out a general election on May 2, there are still local elections in many parts of the country on that day.

This means MPs are beginning to ramp up campaigning in their local areas. One Conservative MP — a supporter of Sunak's leadership — said they were struck by the extent to which the prime minister "is a drag" on their vote when mentioned on the doorstep.

The local election campaign trail also appears to be focusing minds on what a general election might look like. Some were heartened by reports last week that Boris Johnson will campaign for the Conservatives at the election.

For others, this just underscored their frustrations with the current leader. "Who do you want coming off the battle bus in your marginal seat, Boris or Rishi?" one MP has been asking their colleagues. (To be clear, it's a rhetorical question — their answer is not Rishi).

The mutterings — and for now they are just that — about the leadership have focused so far on Penny Mordaunt, the leader of the House of Commons. We know that she would like to be leader of the Conservative Party: after all, she tried to become leader twice in 2022.

Few Conservatives are giving much credence to the idea that there is an advanced plot, anchored by an alliance of Mordaunt's supporters and those on the right of the party. But that doesn't mean the possibility isn't of interest to MPs. "I don't think it's coming from Penny," one senior MP said. "But I think it's a fairly credible idea."

Others think the notion of removing Sunak and installing a fifth Conservative leader in five years is absurd. Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Westminster Hour last night Damian Green, Theresa May's former deputy, said: "All I can say is that nobody's spoken to me about Penny Mordaunt or anyone else like that, so I think there are people claiming that things are happening that I know are not happening".

He added: "I think we've had enough prime ministers for this parliament thank you very much."

One senior minister was more pithy. "Mental," was their one-word take on the idea of replacing the prime minister again.

Sunak is in Coventry today talking about the economy, arguing that a corner is being turned. That reflects the political message to his MPs too: hold your nerve.

It is certainly possible that the political mood could feel different for him by the end of this week. The Rwanda bill, designed to put the government's flagship asylum policy on a stronger legal footing, could be law by the end of this week.

Inflation statistics may show a significant drop on Wednesday, paving the way for a possible interest rates cut. Then early next week MPs break for Easter, meaning they will not be able to plot in person together for at least a few weeks.

So if there is to be a crunch leadership moment, most MPs seem to think it would come after the local elections.

Yet some wonder if the bleak atmosphere right now is sustainable up to that point.

"I think the party has just about had it," one senior Conservative figure, a firm supporter of the prime minister, said. "There's a realization that there's nothing good left." — BBC

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