UK Conservative Party flooded with fears of election 'wipeout'

Panic over polls and local election results could lead to confidence vote in Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Tory sources say

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is under pressure from within his Conservative Party. AFP
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Fear and despondency are gripping the Conservatives' ranks in Britain over a potential general election disaster, with polls suggesting the party will be reduced to fewer than 100 MPs.

Panic in Downing Street over anticipated poor local election results on May 2 has allegedly led Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to consider calling a general election in June to avoid a vote of confidence in his leadership, MPs told The National.

Sources have suggested, however, that the election date is now much more likely to be later in the year, with October 17 and November 14 given as predicted dates.

Pull the pillars down

No 10 Downing Street allegedly floated the prospect of an election in June to prevent MPs from submitting letters of no confidence. To trigger a vote, 53 letters would be required.

“They were basically telling us that if we carry on causing trouble, we’ll pull the pillars of the temple down on top of us, but I don't think anyone takes it seriously,” an MP and former cabinet member said.

He suggested it might make it more likely for letters of no confidence to be submitted after the May election, although there was “not a co-ordinated campaign” to oust Mr Sunak.

However, he said even if there was a confidence vote, Mr Sunak would probably survive as there was “no one really outstanding” to replace him.

Wipeout

Ardent Tory Brexiteer David Frost has suggested waiting for an autumn election might not be helpful, with polling “getting worse over time, not better”.

The latest major survey of 15,000 people puts the Conservatives at 26 per cent and Labour at 45 per cent. If the polling was translated to the House of Commons, it would give Labour 468 MPs.

This would mean a substantial Labour majority of 286, with the Tories reduced to 98 MPs from their current total of 348. Out of 28 cabinet members, a mere 13 would be re-elected, the polling suggests.

“It is going to be a wipeout,” said a senior Conservative official. “No one has a clue about what we are about to experience.

“But if the Conservative Party is to rebuild itself then it needs to be pretty much wiped out to get rid of the corrupt networks and the rot that has set in so deep.”

Tories are also deeply concerned that last month’s budget, in which £10 billion ($12.57 billion) was given away in tax cuts, has failed to have any effect on polls, particularly as it did not benefit pensioners who make up their core support.

Dawning realisation

Polling results are so consistent across all companies that there was now a “dawning realisation” among pollsters that “maybe this stuff will happen", said Chris Hopkins of Savanta, a polling company.

“Maybe we will be left with a Conservative Party struggling to fill shadow cabinet positions and Keir Starmer, in terms of parliamentary majority, as the strongest prime minister in living memory.”

Even Tory seats with a majority of between 15,000 and 20,000 were now vulnerable, he said.

The evidence among focus groups also indicated a catastrophe, with the public regularly saying “we can't trust them to do anything”, from the economy to the NHS to immigration.

Rwanda policy

It was also suggested the failure to bring down immigration numbers was a significant factor in several Tory seats becoming highly vulnerable to people voting for the Reform UK party.

Mr Hopkins said the “only trump card the Conservatives have left to play” is getting at least one deportation flight to Rwanda for immigrants who have illegally entered Britain.

“It’s the only thing left to go right for them,” he added. “And I suppose you can never write off Labour’s ability to implode on itself.”

But the Conservative official said people hanging on to the deportations as a magic remedy were misled. “You can put on all the Rwanda flights you want to but people don't understand that the relationship with the Conservatives is dead.”

Canada 1993

Ultimately, Tory MPs are resigned to losing heavily at the general election, with one even making a comparison to the 1993 Canada poll in which the ruling Progressive Conservative Party was reduced to only two seats.

“But they came back and later won handsomely,” the Tory backbencher said. “A spell in opposition does give you some time to think about things and for some deep talk.”

Updated: April 03, 2024, 11:38 AM