Westminster and its drinking holes have always been a fertile ground for conspirators. There was the dead sheep coup against Margaret Thatcher, the curry house conspiracy against Tony Blair, the great goose plot against Gordon Brown and the pork pie putsch to oust Boris Johnson.
Now that Rishi Sunak has the worst approval ratings of any prime minister in an election year, it’s inevitable he should be the target of a new plot. The Tories have become the party of regicide. The dispatching of Liz Truss was carried out with record-breaking speed. When things get bad, the Tories change leader. It’s the party’s natural reflex.
For many, the idea of removing Sunak is mad. An election is just months away, Labour is 20 points ahead in the polls and its main attack line is that the Tories are a feuding rabble. The one MP this year to call for Sunak to go – the Truss loyalist Simon Clarke – has been ostracised by his colleagues. ‘He has united the party in dislike of him,’ says a former cabinet minister. But his logic – that a party heading for oblivion has to change course – has resonated with some MPs, former government aides and disillusioned donors. Today’s polls point to a Conservative wipeout and a 250-seat majority for Labour. So they ask: what is there to lose?
A cabal has formed with the intent of replacing Sunak with a leader who can move the party on to a more secure footing on immigration. ‘We are not one homogenous group. There are various people who think Rishi isn’t working. Inevitably, conversations are taking place,’ I’m told by one figure who is advocating for change. ‘The thing to understand is that it’s a lot more organic than some make out.