It was ‘the knife of the long knight’, joked one social media wag about the bid by the unfeasibly tall Sir Simon Clarke to oust Rishi Sunak from 10 Downing Street. So lanky was he as a youth that Clarke was nicknamed ‘stilts’ in his schooldays. Conventional wisdom at Westminster will tell you this morning that his attempted coup is nonsense on stilts as well. Certainly, there has thus far been a notable lack of colleagues replicating his call for Sunak to stand down.
And yet, in recent years Westminster conventional wisdom has often got things wrong. Just because there is no sign of Clarke’s media-based revolt catching fire right now, even among the small group of Tory MPs who joined him in voting against Sunak’s legislation on Rwanda last week, it does not follow that it will have no impact.
Some observers have already spotted a curiosity in the article in the Daily Telegraph at the heart of his onslaught. He refers in it to that newspaper having run a devastating mega-poll ‘in January’. Does this not imply that Clarke wrote his article with a view to running it in February? To me it seems like that.
That might well have been a better idea, despite some more notably poor opinion polls in the last few days and fresh data from that mega-survey purporting to illustrate the prospect of recovery under a better leader. Mid-February sees another double by-election day in two seats the Conservatives currently hold. This time around there is a strong chance that electors in Wellingborough and Kingswood will not only return Labour MPs but also do something Tory parliamentarians will find even more unnerving: give the Reform UK party significant electoral traction for the first time.
Sir Simon’s warning of an impending general election ‘massacre’ will gain substance if Reform can turn opinion poll ratings of ten per cent or more into vote shares that match or exceed that in real contests.