Rishi Sunak’s political suicide may see Tories move further towards right-wing English nativism – Euan McColm

Smart Tories understand that a drift to the right after general election defeat would only prolong their woes

Think of the Prime Minister as the prisoner and the electorate as the firing squad. His hands and legs bound, his eyes covered, Rishi Sunak is out of options. After a tense silence, a voice rings out, “Ready. Aim. Fire!” The voice belongs to Rishi Sunak.

As acts of political suicide go, the PM’s decision to call a July election takes some topping. The Conservatives – deservedly and amusingly – are plummeting in the polls and Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour party appears unstoppable.

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Sunak still had until January to try to turn things round before he’d have been legally compelled to hold an election. Instead, he has opted for evisceration at the hands of an electorate with an unquenchable thirst for punishing this hopeless, discredited, immoral Tory government.

Rishi Sunak walks back into 10 Downing Street after announcing a general election amid a downpour (Picture: Carl Court/Getty Images)Rishi Sunak walks back into 10 Downing Street after announcing a general election amid a downpour (Picture: Carl Court/Getty Images)
Rishi Sunak walks back into 10 Downing Street after announcing a general election amid a downpour (Picture: Carl Court/Getty Images)
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Madness and amorality

Of course, Sunak may have recognised that the Conservative brand is simply irreparable, in which case his decision to call the election looks like the political equivalent of a trip to Dignitas. Better to get things over with as quickly and painlessly as possible, than to suffer on without hope of a cure.

When, as he surely will be, Sunak is humiliated at the polls, he will be taking punishment not only for his own weaknesses but for economic madness of the Liz Truss weeks and the depraved amorality of Boris Johnson’s tenure.

That public anger, built up over years of government by liars and spivs who took the electorate for fools, will not easily dissipate. The Conservatives will have to work long and hard if they are begin winning back the trust of the people – the mainstream, moderates of middle Britain – on whose support electoral victory depends.

I don’t think it’s reckless to suggest the Conservatives are in no state to begin that process of rebuilding. All of the potential replacements for Sunak are on the right of the party and they will, when the next leadership election commences, be fighting for the support of a dwindling number of party members, the majority of whom are older and sit comfortably on the reactionary end of the scale.

No way to win back power

As things stand, the Conservative party looks determined to move as far away from the electorate as possible. A right-wing populist Tory leader – Suella Braverman, say, or Priti Patel – will continue to tickle the tummies of angry, anti-immigration, little Englanders but a lurch deeper into nativism will do nothing to turn round the fortunes of the party.

Smart Tories – and there are some left – know voters haven’t abandoned their party because it’s neither right-wing nor cruel enough. Rather, they’ve done so because they see in Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer a politician who resembles a grown-up. The novelty of an ever-more shrill and divisive Conservative party has worn off.

If the post-drubbing Tory party continues to seek answers on the right, its humiliation will prolong and, while some chaps on the Conservative benches might be perfectly happy to pay good money for that sort of thing, it’s no way to go about winning back power.

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Rishi Sunak will lead the Conservatives to a shattering election defeat and there’s no sign those jostling to replace him understand what’s gone so wrong with their party. Things stand to get much worse for the Tories before they get better.



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