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by Peter Franklin
Friday, 7
July 2023

Rishi Sunak will survive the ‘mini-general election’

But three by-elections later this month will be brutal for the Tories
by Peter Franklin
A marked man. Credit: Getty

On 23rd September 2022, the government of Liz Truss was destroyed by the infamous mini-budget. Less than a year later, Rishi Sunak finds himself facing his own mini-nemesis — in his case, a mini-general election.

Three by-elections are scheduled for 20th July. These, most likely, will be followed by two more: Tamworth (if Chris Pincher resigns) and Mid Bedfordshire (when Nadine Dorries resigns).

It isn’t the first time we’ve had a cluster of by-elections. The record was set on 23rd January 1986, following the mass resignation of fifteen Unionist MPs. Compared to that, the three-ring circus later this month seems rather modest. However, as with the other two constituencies currently in play, these are all seats that were held by the Conservatives in 2019 — four of them with five-figure majorities.

Losing them all would therefore be cataclysmic — especially as they’re spread across England, representing five different regions from Yorkshire to the West Country. What clearer portent could there be of a Tory wipeout at the actual general election?

The temporal spacing of the by-elections is also unhelpful. A triple whammy on the 20th would be bad enough. But the prospect of two further humiliations — whose timing Sunak does not control — greatly complicates any attempt by him to reset his government with a major reshuffle.

The window of opportunity would be after the bad news of all the by-elections, but before the Conservative Party conference in October. It would be simply too awkward to have big-name Cabinet ministers deliver podium speeches if they’re about to be sacked.

It may be that Sunak’s parliamentary colleagues decide that he is the one who needs sacking. However, there’s a real reluctance to press the red button again. It would mean another soul-crushing leadership contest — ending in the imposition of a third “unelected” prime minister. Nothing would be more likely to precipitate an immediate general election and the proper shoeing that would bring upon the Conservative Party.

On the other hand, Tories of an impatient disposition might view this as the best case scenario. The sooner that the useless party establishment goes down in flames, the sooner that something better can rise from the ashes.

It is increasingly hard to disagree with them. Since 2019, the Conservatives have had three chances to get it right. They’ve tried having a populist (Johnson) lead them, followed by an ideologue (Truss), followed by a technocrat (Sunak). The fact that these markedly different approaches have all foundered suggests that the problem goes much deeper than any particular leader. Hence the need for the kind of renewal that can only follow a devastating defeat.

And yet the Sunak approach has still to run its course. Even those who are most deeply disappointed in his government must give it the chance to succeed — or, more likely, the chance to fail from within. There should be no stab in the back — or even the front. His failure, if and when it comes, must belong to him and his acolytes. Only then can the Tories ask themselves why they keep on choosing losers. 

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Simon Denis
Simon Denis
4 months ago

They won’t get rid of Sunak for the simple reason that most of them believe it is already too late to avert political catastrophe.
This is the one thing about which the current parliamentary party is clear: how to butter one’s bread and get out of the kitchen in time, whilst remaining “persona grata” with the likely new chef.
Few or perhaps none of them is principled enough to mount a rear-guard campaign; many are pitifully ignorant of quite what they are supposed to believe. And in any case they are rigidly controlled by the Central Office which picked them in the first place.
True, there remain a few, such as the excellent Sir John Redwood, who are more than capable of articulating a centre-right point of view and are far too distinguished to be silenced, but these are generally older members.
And why? Because for years the Gove-Godson vandalism of the Conservative party has yielded a crop of miserable lobby fodder, incapable of withstanding a moment’s fierce debate. How else do we imagine that the hapless, helpless, hopeless Helen Whately rose to prominence? A delicate creature who wilts and grins and shakes her head when confronted by opposition.
Worse, how on earth was it that such as “Boris” Johnson came to be leader? A man whose snail’s horns and jelly spine had been abundantly on show for twenty years – to those who could see through the bluster and clowning.
Well, the hollowing out of the Tory party – kicked off by those frightfully clever chaps from Eton and Oxbridge – is now reaching the last act. It will be yet another object lesson – like the fall of the Portuguese monarchy – to all those who imagine that the right can “reach out” to the left.
The only answers the right should ever offer such hate-filled opponents are resistance, refusal and objection together with a vigorous, principled, ideological alternative. Such was the recipe of Lady Thatcher, by comparison with whom the Camerons, Osbornes, Goves, Mays, Johnsons and the rest of them are contemptible worms.

Last edited 4 months ago by Simon Denis
Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
4 months ago

Truss wasn’t brought down by the mini-budget, it was the Bank of England wot dun it.
Markets Didn’t Oust Truss. The Bank of England Did. – The Washington Post
Even so, she could have survived had the parliamentary party supported her but they were determined to get their man Rishi into Downing Street, whatever the members thought. His failure is now obvious and the Tory Party will pay the price at the election.

Christopher Darlington
Christopher Darlington
4 months ago

The Tories were gonna lose long before Truss came into No. 10. It’s been inevitable for a number of years now.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
4 months ago

“…There should be no stab in the back — or even the front…”

The funniest line ever. The Tories, having stabbed away front and back (and sides) for the entire parliament, having brought down two prime ministers with zero dignity and honour, should now stop stabbing should they? But why stop now? The political equivalent of Norman Bates is clearly their thing.

j watson
j watson
4 months ago

Most important sentence – ‘…fact that these markedly different approaches have all foundered suggests that the problem goes much deeper than any particular leader’.
Yep to some pretty big fundamentals in Right Wing thinking and including the tension between populist sloganeering and honesty with the public about trade offs.
Many on the Right will continue to default blame to the last 5 leaders or to some fictitious ‘blob’ as a comfort blanket to avoid proper reflection. It displays the victim culture of the snowflake which so many on the Right decry in others. The irony is largely lost on them.