Rishi Sunak invites Tory MPs to post-election debrief in desperate bid to calm nerves

Exclusive: As furious plotters accused their colleagues of ‘giving up on beating Labour’ and ‘accepting their fate’, as efforts to topple Mr Sunak stalled, the PM invited backbenchers to attend ‘local elections presentations’ later this month

David Maddox
Political Editor
,Archie Mitchell
Monday 06 May 2024 13:48 BST
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BBC presenter pulls apart Tory claiming general election will yield hung parliament

Rishi Sunak has called in Tory MPs for two mini summits in a desperate bid to calm nerves after last week’s local election drubbing.

As furious plotters accused their colleagues of “giving up on beating Labour" and "accepting their fate", as efforts to topple Mr Sunak stalled, the PM invited backbenchers to attend “local elections presentations” later this month.

The summits will be held by Mr Sunak, Tory chairman Richard Holden and Conservative campaign director Isaac Levido.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will try to calm the nerves of Tory MPs after dire local election results
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will try to calm the nerves of Tory MPs after dire local election results (PA Wire)

“Both sessions will be an opportunity for colleagues to provide feedback, ask questions and receive an update on our campaign strategy,” an email sent to Tory MPs, seen by The Independent, said.

Tories were shocked by the scale of the defeat, with 472 council seats lost and a dreadful result for the party in London, where Sadiq Khan was returned as the city’s mayor for a third term.

The PM was said to be furious about the Conservatives losing to Labour in the York and North Yorkshire metro mayoral race, an area historically seen as true blue Tory territory.

Mr Sunak also voted for Conservative candidate Keane Duncan, who lost to Labour’s David Skaith, a local businessman.

Former Tory deputy chairman Lee Anderson, who has since joined Reform UK, criticised Mr Sunak for repeatedly saying the Conservatives need to “stick to the plan”.

“If the plan is working, it is not a very good plan,” he told The Independent. He added: “Quite obviously the plan is not working... the general public has lost all confidence in the government being able to deliver pretty much anything.

“To base your election strategy on not voting for another political party because it might let Labour in just shows how much they have been a failure... it is basically admitting ‘we are not very good’ but saying if you vote for Reform you might get something not as good.”

A slew of senior Conservatives told The Independent after the results that their colleagues are “spineless” for not trying to replace Mr Sunak, while some warned another Tory leadership election would only do more damage to the party’s fortunes.

One said: “Some are standing down and don’t care. Some are motivated by their own self interest and patronage Rishi has. Some are deluded and some have just given up and don’t think anything will make any difference and it would be just as bad if not worse with a new leader.”

And another told this paper: “I think there is some concern that there is no clear candidate.

“Concern someone like Penny Mordaunt could get it and is unsound.

“The further damage that changing again could do and some are holding onto shreds of silver linings in the local election results in their areas."

Another said: “Most of my colleagues are spineless cowards. And have given up trying to stop a Labour government. It’s maddening. Most of them won’t be back in Parliament."

In a bid to punch the Tory bruise, Reform UK leader Richard Tice said the PM’s presentation to MPs appears to be an attempt to “persuade Tory voters” not to back his and Nigel Farage’s right-wing challenger party.

The row erupted as Mr Sunak claimed that, while the Conservatives will lose the general election, Labour will fail to win an outright majority and Britain will be left with a hung parliament.

Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer with newly elected East Midlands mayor Claire Ward during a visit to Forest Town Arena in Mansfield, East Midlands (Jacob King/PA)
Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer with newly elected East Midlands mayor Claire Ward during a visit to Forest Town Arena in Mansfield, East Midlands (Jacob King/PA) (PA Wire)

One Tory MP described the suggestion as “wishful thinking”, while Labour Party chairman Anneliese Dodds said it was “extraordinary”.

Mr Sunak pointed to Sky News analysis of the local election results which suggested Labour would be the largest party in a hung parliament. Elections expert Michael Thrasher said that if Labour’s seven point local election lead over the Conservatives was repeated at a general election there would be a hung parliament.

However, people tend not to vote the same way in a general election where independent and smaller party candidates do not fare as well, and the analysis did not factor in any Labour gains in Scotland off the back of ongoing SNP chaos.

“These results suggest we are heading for a hung parliament with Labour as the largest party,” Mr Sunak told The Times. “Keir Starmer propped up in Downing Street by the SNP, Liberal Democrats and the Greens would be a disaster for Britain.”

Former home secretary Suella Braverman speaks to Laura Kuenssberg (Jeff Overs/BBC/PA)
Former home secretary Suella Braverman speaks to Laura Kuenssberg (Jeff Overs/BBC/PA) (PA Media)

It is an attempt to revive the message used successfully by David Cameron ahead of the 2015 general election warning voters would face an SNP-Labour “coalition of chaos” if they did not back the Tories.

It also came as Downing Street shelved plans for a summer general election, with an autumn vote now widely expected.

Former home secretary Suella Braverman has urged the prime minister to embrace more right-wing policies to win back voters ahead of the contest.

But she said a change of leadership was not a “feasible prospect”, adding: “There is no superman or superwoman out there who can do it.”

Among the measures Ms Braverman has urged Mr Sunak to adopt to win back voters are further tax cuts and a cap on legal migration.

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