Tories warned not to embrace right-wing extremism after disastrous local elections

Tory MPs are taking stock of catastrophic local election results but being warned against a drift to the right

David Maddox
Political Editor
Sunday 05 May 2024 17:35 BST
Keir Starmer speaks in Birmingham after Richard Parker mayoral win

Tory MPs have been warned that the reason for their electoral drubbing was not that they “were not right-wing or extreme enough”, as a battle over the party’s future begins.

The announcement late on Saturday night that former Tory mayor Andy Street had been defeated in the West Midlands has reopened questions over whether the party “is conservative enough” or should change its leader, replacing Rishi Sunak.

But Boris Johnson’s former director of communications, Guto Harri, joined Mr Street in warning against a “drift to the right”.

Rishi Sunak’s leadership is under fire
Rishi Sunak’s leadership is under fire (Molly Darlington)

It came as darling of the right Suella Braverman, who was sacked by Mr Sunak as home secretary, penned an article in the aftermath of the local election results demanding the party embraces a much more right-wing agenda.

Tories have been 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.

Ms Braverman told Laura Kuenssberg on the BBC: “I am urging the prime minister to change direction. The problem is that many Conservative voters are on strike. When I was knocking on doors in the Midlands and elsewhere, Conservative voters told me we weren’t conservative enough.”

She insisted that Mr Sunak needs to put a cap on migration and take Britain out of the European Convention on Human Rights.

She claimed that “the evidence” for her message “is that people are not voting for us”.

Ms Braverman said she “regretted” supporting Mr Sunak’s bid to be leader in 2022, and added: “At this rate, we will be lucky to have any Conservative MPs at the next election.”

Andy Street’s defeat is a huge blow to the Tories
Andy Street’s defeat is a huge blow to the Tories (PA)

Ms Braverman warned against a change of leader: “I don’t think that’s a feasible prospect at this time. There is no superman or superwoman who can come in. Rishi Sunak needs to own this.”

However, on Saturday night as he digested his own defeat, Mr Street had pointed out that his much more centrist agenda had almost delivered an unlikely victory against a collapse in the national vote.

He was asked by Sky News: “Are you worried about the Conservative Party drifting to the right, over-emphasising the threat from Reform and ignoring other voters?”

Mr Street replied: “I would definitely not advise that drift.”

And on the Trevor Phillips show on Sky News on Sunday morning, Mr Harri joined Mr Street in warning against a Braverman right-wing agenda.

He said: “We did not lose because we were not right-wing enough. We did not lose because we were not extreme enough.”

Boris Johnson’s former advisor, Guto Harri, has warned against a lurch to the right
Boris Johnson’s former advisor, Guto Harri, has warned against a lurch to the right (PA/Reuters)

The former Boris Johnson aide said the lesson of history is that governments need to govern from the centre.

But there were also questions about Mr Sunak’s own future with allies calling around angry MPs asking for “calm”.

One senior backbencher and former minister told The Independent that the result in the West Midlands and the revelations that Mr Sunak “could not be bothered to vote for Susan Hall [in London]” means that his future “is in play again”.

The senior MP added: “The West Midlands result is Rishi’s final ‘the emperor has no clothes’ moment. Combined with the loss of over 400 Tory councillors, London (in which the PM didn’t even bother to vote) and now this, it’s a cumulative total disaster. The only guy who actually won – Houchen – didn’t even have the balls to wear a blue rosette!”

Suella Braverman has again suggested the party is ‘not Conservative enough’
Suella Braverman has again suggested the party is ‘not Conservative enough’ (Getty Images)

But transport secretary Mark Harper insisted that changing leader now would be wrong.

He claimed that the results showed that Labour is not on track for a huge victory in the general election.

The minister said on Sunday: “The election results over the last few days were disappointing. But the prime minister is interested in taking difficult decisions that are in the long-term interests of the country.

“The message from the election success in the Tees Valley is about having a plan and delivering a plan. We have made huge progress on our priorities, we have brought inflation down.

“The plan is working, but we haven’t got all the way through to the end of it yet.”

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