Loyalty, it used to be said, was the secret weapon of the Conservative party. That hasn’t been true for some time. Back in 2006, the then MP for Henley wrote of the Tory party having succumbed to ‘Papua New Guinea-style orgies of cannibalism and chief-killing’. Boris Johnson later had to apologise to Papua New Guinea for the insensitivity of that observation. But he wasn’t wrong about the new Tory tendency to kill the chief, as he discovered so painfully last year.
Still, until recently a new party leader could expect a year or two of relative stability, when enemies would stay their spears and doubters would do their best to lend support.
No longer. Rishi Sunak has been Conservative leader and Prime Minister for just three months. His premiership arose from the ashes of Liz Truss’s 49 days in No. 10. Already the rumblings against him are beginning, and not just in private. Lord Greenhalgh, a former colleague of Johnson’s at City Hall, said this week that ‘I don’t see him [Sunak] as an election-winner’. He added that there is a ‘strong probability’ of Johnson returning to Downing Street this year.
It is desperation that’s leading Tories to think in this way. Unlike the pound, the party’s opinion poll ratings have never properly recovered from the debacle of September’s mini-Budget.
Sunak has managed to lift support for the Conservatives from 20 per cent to about 25 per cent, while Keir Starmer’s Labour is holding firm on 45 per cent. This time last year, Johnson’s Tories were ten points behind, hardly unusual for a governing party midway through parliament. Those who deposed him often asked how things could possibly get worse. They have their answer.
In the current environment, only a few dozen Tory MPs can count on retaining their seats.