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As Good as a Rest?

As Good as a Rest?

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That’s the thing about a change. Felt especially keenly right now by Tory MPs, as they gear up to snarl at Labour instead of one another. As our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, the looming local elections are a dress rehearsal for the fight for their own survival later in the year.

‘Enough of briefings to destabilise things or undermine the agenda/PM. I’m f***ing bored of it, I’m working my arse off … without having to go back and forth on doorsteps about the psychodrama.’

So said Jonathan Gullis to his chums on their WhatsApp group a week or so back. He’s a new Deputy Tory Chairman appointed to replace Lee Anderson, who, like him is never knowingly understated.

Readers may remember that Lee Anderson, satirised in Private Eye as Lee Anderthal, flounced off to the right wing Reform Party after being chucked out for using racist language.

Both men hail from the so-called ‘common sense’ wing of the Tory fold, euphemism for their brutishly populist political positions.

And Gullis’s elevation has sparked anxieties among colleagues whose attitudes align to the broader definition of common sense that his newly enhanced status might not do a lot for the brand.

It’s also worth noting that, when pitted against more moderate Tories, the Gullis school of thought is very much part of the party’s psychodrama.

But, more to the point, Rishi Sunak’s decision to give him one of the top jobs spells out in merciless detail his own dilemma.

When he first got the keys to Number Ten he trialled the idea of being, albeit in more measured terms, Mr Continuity.

Given that his predecessors had been forced out for, variously, very bad behaviour and nearly tanking the economy, that line was hardly likely to hold.

So instead he had a bit of a crack at being Mr Change. But a succession of bad calls exposed that as a non-starter.

He could, for example, have simply ditched the Rwanda scheme. Its theoretical appeal, as a deterrent to small boat arrivals, has been rather swamped – excuse horrid pun – by endless rows and setbacks. And may still never happen.

It’s also kept illegal immigration in the headlines. Mostly negative, given that he has made progress on cutting numbers, but nowhere near enough to meet his own pledge on this front.

Maddeningly too, it’s shifted attention away from the economy, where his promise to slash inflation actually has been met. Not such a surprise, as, unlike politics, he is good at numbers.

The other plus of shutting down Rwanda would have been the sheer symbolism of fronting up to his party’s chronically rebellious right wing, and aligning instead with the less outspoken but more numerous moderates.

Goes without saying that the Anderson/Gullis manoeuvrings fit into that frame.

And the latest mini-row over his giving a gong to top Tory donor Mohamed Mansour is also illustrative of his political tin ear. Yes, the man is a leading philanthropist, giving to a variety of good causes. But still, it doesn’t look good.

Little wonder then that more and more senior Tories are throwing in the towel. Only last week two highly respected ministers quit their posts and announced they wouldn’t be standing at the election.

That brings the number of leavers, so far, up to one fifth of all Conservative MPs. Word is that the government’s asked these guys to stagger their announcements for fear of giving the impression the whole party’s staggering.

As well it might, given that the nation’s leading pollster Professor Sir John Curtice has given Labour a ninety-nine per cent chance of winning the election. The only question in his mind being how big its majority will be.

At the same time other surveys suggest that among lower status and less well-educated voters the anti-immigration Reform Party’s outstripping the Conservatives.

Given that the insurgents’ base is wide but shallow, they’re unlikely to win seats at the general election. Their presence will, however, divide the right-of-centre support, thus leaving doors wide open for Labour.

All of which suggests the best Sunak can do is try and limit damage. And once again his existential dilemma heaves into view. As does the threat to his premiership if the town hall elections turn out as badly as predicted.

If they’re really frightful then mid May could be his Ides of March moment, as the plotters just might strike.

It’d be an act of desperation, many would say folly, if they tried for a sixth leader in less than a decade. But, they could argue, desperate times and all that.

Assuming this doesn’t happen, however, Sunak could finally face up to the fact that if he edges further right to keep one section of his voter base happy he risks alienating another. That’s to say the more moderate-minded ‘Blue Wall’.

The leafy suburbs in England’s more affluent south are absolutely in the sights of the Liberal Democrats. And there’s evidence that they’re gaining support among those traditional Tories who find any gritty rightward drift distasteful.

Food there for thought for our embattled Prime Minister.

But there’s also a welter of tricky calculation facing Sir Keir Starmer as the town hall campaign proper gets under way. Apart from the likely narrowing of his lead closer to the big one there are many expectations to be managed.

Let’s say he gets in, with a comfortable majority. What then?

Bear in mind reports by two leading health think tanks that say satisfaction with the NHS has fallen an historic low, with only a quarter of us believing it’s working. Meaning this could well be the number one issue with voters.

Will Starmer be able to wave a magic wand and slash waiting times overnight? Of course not.

And that’s just one example of what he’ll be up against from the moment he gets his feet under the cabinet table. The list of other reasons why the electorate want the Tories out is scarily long.

But just making speeches about how rubbish they are won’t cut it when he’s charged with fixing everything. And if he gives too much away at this stage his risks having them nicking his ideas.

So the question will heave into view, is he the real thing or just a phoney?

That said, mistaken identities can have a charm of their own. Take for example the case of the dear little baby hedgehog brought to the Lower Moss Nature Reserve and Wildlife Hospital by a rescuer last week.

This kind-hearted soul posted pix on social media of the reposeful blob snuggled up in a box beside a bowl of what should have been temptingly delicious food.

In the event it didn’t get eaten because the faux furry friend was actually … the bobble from a hat.

The fact remains that, until the identity mystery was cleared up, the charity’s volunteers reported that the apparent hoglet had: ‘Still got all the love, complete with some cosy TLC.’

Which was why, they added: ‘Our hearts melted.’

Well, whose wouldn’t?

Watch Peter’s report at

Peter Spencer has 40 years experience as a Political Correspondent in Westminster, working with London Broadcasting and Sky News. For more of his fascinating musings on the turbulent political landscape, follow him on Facebook & Twitter.

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