As misery and despair stalk the Tory party, talk of changing leader is getting louder

UK

Rishi Sunak hopes three key moments this week will turn around his fortunes after his standing in the party plummeted.

The PM is hoping Monday’s speech on the economy, Wednesday’s end of term appearance before Tory MPs and new inflation figures due out the same day, which could be close to the Bank of England target of 2%, will stem the bleeding of his premiership.

The Politics at Jack and Sam’s podcast conducted a wide-ranging survey of the Tory party, across the main factions and wings, and found misery and despair, and a revived talk of changing leader if things do not improve.

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Although senior figures still put this at below 50%, it is now being widely discussed and is likely to revive if the party does not do well in the 2 May local elections, which is anticipated.

Sunak has lost some of the goodwill and support of the one nation group of moderate MPs, on top of the existing disquiet amongst Red Wall MPs.

This comes in particular after the handling of the race row involving Tory mega-donor Frank Hester, although is also a consequence of the lack of impact for the budget and defection of Lee Anderson have also contributed to the change in mood.

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Rishi Sunak attends a Q&A at The Queens Hotel, a JD Wetherspoon pub in Maltby, Rotherham
Pic:Reuters
Image:
Pic: Reuters

“Previously the party – apart from hardcore Boris-ites and Trussites – thought that it would be ridiculous to have another change of leadership in this parliament. That feeling has been weakened by the polls not moving,” said one One Nation Tory.

“It is certainly true that if you can find someone who can be anointed leader in a coronation rather than a contest, it might be worth it to save 50-100 seats.”

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‘Sunak will still be Tory leader at next general election’

One name that appears to fit the bill for several different parts of the Tory parliamentary party is Commons leader and two-time leadership contender Penny Mordaunt.

Some on the right say she might be their compromise candidate as she is pro-Brexit, performs well in the Commons, and would run a “balanced” government post-Sunak.

Leader of the House of Commons Penny Mordaunt delivers a speech during the Conservative Party annual conference at the Manchester Central convention complex. Picture date: Wednesday October 4, 2023. PA Photo. See PA story POLITICS Tories. Photo credit should read: Danny Lawson/PA Wire
Image:
Pic: Danny Lawson/PA Wire

A 2019 Tory MP told me for the podcast that they are getting spontaneous constituency correspondence saying “thank God Penny is in the running” and “I hope she’s the party’s future”.

However one source said she believes there is no way there could be a change of leader without a contest and believes there would have to be a general election straight away if Sunak went, making the job a lot less appealing.

Tory MPs will spend much of Monday together in the division lobbies to vote to reject amendments inserted by the House of Lords into the Rwanda bill, and there will be a better sense of the mood after that, we say on the Politics at Jack and Sam’s podcast.

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