Rishi's 'neutralised threat of leadership challenge'
‘It’s his party now’: Rishi’s allies believe he’s neutralised threat of leadership challenge before next election… after winning key Brexit vote while Boris is embroiled in Partygate battle
- Just 22 Conservative MPs voted against Rishi Sunak’s Brexit deal
- PM was able to pass his deal without political humiliation of requiring Labour
While Boris Johnson sweated over Partygate on Wednesday afternoon, Rishi Sunak was relaxing playing cricket in the No 10 garden.
Downing Street had explained that the Prime Minister would be ‘too busy’ to watch his predecessor grappling with the Commons privileges committee.
In fact, he was practising his leg-spin against members of the England cricket team while Mr Johnson was trying to fend off a series of googlies about a notorious ‘bring your own booze’ event in the self-same garden.
Half-an-hour earlier he had seen off Mr Johnson’s attempt to trigger a major Tory rebellion over his new Brexit deal.
By the time stumps were drawn, his allies believed he had neutralised the threat of a leadership challenge before the next election, which had hung over him since he seized the Tory crown in chaotic circumstances.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak welcomes members of the T20 World Cup winning England cricket team, along with ECB staff and school children from the ACE cricket programme
While Boris Johnson sweated over Partygate on Wednesday afternoon, Rishi Sunak was relaxing playing cricket in the No 10 garden
Boris Johnson appeared before the Privileges Committee for his Partygate grilling on Wednesday
Just 22 Conservative MPs voted against Mr Sunak’s Brexit deal, despite the lead given by Mr Johnson and other senior figures from his government such as Liz Truss and Priti Patel.
A further 40 did not vote – some of them undoubtedly bought off by the Tory whips – but the PM was still able to pass his deal without the political humiliation of requiring Labour votes to do so.
Allies of the PM were bullish, noting that the Tory rebellion had been squeezed below the predictions of some European Research Group members, despite Mr Johnson’s backing.
‘The lion roared and no-one came running,’ said one Tory MP.
One friend of the PM said recent events had solidified Mr Sunak’s grip on the Conservative Party.
‘A Brexit vote that commands near support on both sides of the House is a collector’s item,’ the source said. ‘It’s his party now.’
A recent Deltapoll survey put the Conservatives up eight points on 35 points, their highest since Liz Truss’s disastrous mini-Budget last September
By the time stumps were drawn, his allies believed he had neutralised the threat of a leadership challenge before the next election, which had hung over him since he seized the Tory crown in chaotic circumstances
Allies of the PM were bullish, noting that the Tory rebellion had been squeezed below the predictions of some European Research Group members, despite Mr Johnson’s backing
Those close to Mr Sunak acknowledge that local elections in the first week of May will be ‘dreadful’, with experts predicting the Conservatives will lose more than 1,000 council seats as voters vent their anger over the cost-of-living crisis.
But, with Mr Johnson bogged down in Partygate, and the opinion polls showing some signs of Tory progress, they no longer fear it will be the platform for an attempted coup against his leadership.
In fact, they think they are on a roll.
Elections guru Isaac Levido has warned the PM not to expect a significant shift in the opinion polls until the end of the year.
But, after focusing on the small boats crisis and brokering a deal that could finally end the public sector strikes, there are early signs that the public are starting to notice.
There are also tentative signs that the Tory civil war of recent years might be calming down, at least for now
One friend of the PM said recent events had solidified Mr Sunak’s grip on the Conservative Party
One poll last week had Labour’s lead at 10 points, another today put it at 14 points – still a huge gap but a nudge in the right direction from the 22pt average at the end of last year.
Tory pollster Robert Hayward today said a Labour victory at the next election was still the most likely outcome but that it was ‘becoming less certain’.
‘Labour were virtually measuring up for the curtains,’ he said. ‘But the atmosphere has changed – there is a degree of uncertainty.’
There are also tentative signs that the Tory civil war of recent years might be calming down, at least for now.
The run-up to the Budget was dominated by Tory calls for tax cuts. Yet, despite official forecasts confirming the UK is on course for the highest tax burden in history, the revolt melted away, with even arch tax-cutters such as Kwasi Kwarteng rowing in behind it.
‘We tried it one way, it didn’t work, the Prime Minister changed course,’ Mr Kwarteng said this week. ‘I’m very much of the view that as a backbencher, I should be supporting the PM.
‘It’s very irritating to see people who’ve been very high up in government, not backing necessarily everything that the PM is trying to do, because we’re not going to win unless we are united.’
If that attitude catches on, Mr Sunak might even have a chance.
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