Is a platoon of Conservative MPs poised to follow Sir Simon Clarke “over the top”? What else does the mystery “group of Conservative donors called the Conservative Britain Alliance” have in its locker? And how much publicity will the Telegraph stable give to both?
These are some of the main questions posed by Sir Simon’s article in the Daily Telegraph today calling for Rishi Sunak to go – and the poll that accompanies the paper’s report of it.
Sir Simon is a pleasant, capable, former member of Liz Truss’s Cabinet who is almost a Red Waller: that’s to say, he won his Teesside constituency from Labour in 2017 rather than 2019 and it isn’t, strictly speaking, a seat that the Conservatives have never held, at least in part.
That he now faces the prospect of losing it will have been a factor in his decision – and one reading of his article is that the Prime Minister is paying a penalty for not bringing Sir Simon back to government (specifically) and neglecting the right in his promotions (generally).
My impression is that more Tory MPs are considering whether to follow Sir Simon, but that he finds himself this morning alone in no man’s land, at least for the moment.
For some on the right believe that Sunak should take the blame for what presently looks like the coming Conservative general election defeat. Why should we oust him, some say, and then shoulder all the blame?
The Telegraph’s YouGov poll which accompanies Sir Simon’s piece doesn’t seem to be new: rather, it appears to be the second half of the one with which the paper spectacularly kicked off last week.
The enigmatic group that commissioned that first installment clearly wanted to see the Rwanda Bill amended, and if not amended to lose at Third Reading – followed then by a leadership ballot.
It failed in aims one and two, and the jury is out on aim three. We will see during the coming days and weeks what else it has up its sleeve, if anything.
It appears to be more coherent, strategic and determined than Conservative MP dissenters – which isn’t saying very much – but it will have to do rather better than this morning’s second installment.
For a poll that pits Sir Keir Starmer against “a new, tax-cutting Tory leader with a tougher approach to legal and illegal migration”, as this one does, is meaningless…
…Because it presupposes that such a leader would be in a position to cut more taxes than Sunak and Hunt are set to do in the Budget, and to slam the brakes on both legal and illegal immigration.
However, the markets wouldn’t wear bigger tax cuts without big spending cuts – which the Conservative Parliamentary Party wouldn’t countenance, in its present fissiparous condition.
Nor is there a majority in the Commons for, say, simply sending boats back to France; nor can legal migration be slashed in six months. The putative new leader would find himself or herself restricted to promising action at the next general election.
To which the most likely response of the voters would be: “yet more words”. If, that is, his or her new leadership itself long survived a panic-striken and grudge-ridden leadership election.
For the old military ethos of regimental loyalty, a product of the Parliamentary generations that followed World War Two, has long vanished. In these circumstances, one could reasonably expect, yes, another round of letters.
Plus the further reduction of the Government’s already reduced majority as more Conservative MPs followed Nadine Dorries and Chris Skidmore’s lead – that’s to say, quitting the Commons altogether, so handing Labour the consequent by-elections.
In any event, the Telegraph‘s report makes it plain that the real winner in this imaginary contest between Sir Keir and this new paragon is actually…Don’t Know.
A poll that compared Sunak’s performance against Sir Keir to, say, Kemi Badenoch’s, Penny Mordaunt’s and James Cleverly’s might tell us something worth knowing. This nugatory exercise does not.
The Telegraph somewhat downplays the poll, at least compared to its presentation last week. It isn’t pushed in headlines online, nor has similar space been cleared for it.
The paper offers its readers a nice selection of potential leadership runners and riders, kindly quoting this site’s survey, diminished only by the fact that three of them are presently ineligible.
All in all, there is no crisis for Downing Street this morning, but were more Tory MPs to follow Sir Simon’s lead in a purposeful way, and to interact with those gnomic donors, that could change.
Watch for the Kingswood and Wellingborough by-election results in mid-February. These could provide the cover for another push by those mystery donors to gain a confidence ballot.