Sir Simon Clarke’s call to replace Rishi Sunak leans heavily on Tory MPs being in denial about the scale of defeat that could be heading their way. He quotes Alan Clark on the ‘defence mechanism of the psyche’ that allowed Conservatives to disbelieve the landslide thumping forecast ahead of the 1997 election, even though ‘every single device for measuring popular opinion was pointing consistently in the same direction’. Sir Simon points out that Sunak trails Sir Keir Starmer in almost 500 constituencies and warns his colleagues that the price of failing to move against the prime minister will be far greater than the headlines that would come from yet another Tory regicide.
This analysis is reasonably sound, as far as it goes, though I suspect a fresh season of drama on the Treasury benches might attract harsher consequences than a ticking off from the press. After four prime ministers in four years, the public is, as we say in Scotland, scunnered. But even if finding those few remaining voters who don’t feel disgust towards the Conservatives and convincing them otherwise was a price worth paying, what exactly would the Tories get in return? This is the central flaw in Sir Simon’s appeal: it engages in denial, too, albeit a different variant.
The former chief secretary to the Treasury writes in the Telegraph:
If we change the leader to a Prime Minister who shares the instincts of the majority and is willing to lead the country in the right direction, we will recover strongly in 2024. We would deny Starmer the blank cheque he is heading towards, and perhaps even win the election.
What are those instincts? Migration control, naturally, but also supply-side reform, house-building and planning reform, tax and welfare reform, getting tough on crime, overhauling public services and fighting back in the culture war. Fair enough.