While it would be unfair to suggest that Tory MPs only care about holding onto their seats at the next election, equally it would be wrong to say that it isn’t a very important consideration for many.
So when Suella Braverman declared in her personal statement in the Commons today that the Conservative party is ‘heading for electoral oblivion’ if it introduces yet more deficient legislation that fails to stop the boats – it probably amounted to her most persuasive point in the eyes of colleagues. Gulps all round.
Mrs Braveman said what was at stake was the principle of ‘who governs Britain?’, the British people and their elected representatives or the ‘vague, shifting and unaccountable concept of international law’. The last senior Tory to pose that question was Ted Heath, just before the first election of the crisis year of 1974. And look what happened to him.
But Braverman was directing it at a sitting Prime Minister, not posing the question on his behalf. With various sub-factions from the Tory right sitting around her, the link between her warnings that new emergency legislation must disapply human rights law and international treaties, and the growing prospect of a no confidence vote in Rishi Sunak, was obvious.
While Sunak himself did not attend the Commons to hear the statement, he is surely kidding himself if thinks Tory-leaning voters will be happy blaming peers, ‘lefty lawyers’ and other parts of the establishment for thwarting his attempts to end illegal arrivals.
The point of being Prime Minister is to have a writ that runs, not to have sand kicked in your face every time you walk onto a beach.
Braverman repeated her previous admission that she has not always ‘found the right words’ when discussing the issue. But she skilfully offered a qualified loyalty pledge to Sunak, based on the idea that he would follow the pathway she had suggested to winning back the trust of the people.