The Conservative campaign ends as the party governed: in a
blitz of disunity

The Conservative campaign ends as the party governed: in a blitz of disunity

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So this is how the Conservative Party, in its current governing iteration at least, dies: with activists chanting “Boris, Boris, Boris!” and cabinet ministers warning of a Labour landslide “the like of which we have never seen”.

When Rishi Sunak called this election in late May, is this how he imagined bowing out — with activists baying for the man whom he unceremoniously knifed two years ago and prophesying about a cataclysmic defeat? And that’s before you get to the Conservative attack ads suggesting Keir Starmer is coming for your family pet. Yes really.

With that, welcome to the final day of campaigning, as Britons prepare to head to the polls tomorrow for what looks set to be a historic and, as far as the Conservative Party is concerned, savage general election.

And that’s not just my view — that’s the judgement arrived at by Suella Braverman today, who has taken it upon herself to begin the Tory inquest 48 hours in advance. Writing in the Telegraph, the former home secretary has urged her colleagues to “read the writing on the wall” and “prepare for the reality and frustration of opposition”.

It’s not quite the get-the-vote-out message being propounded by CCHQ today; rather, the former home secretary is singularly seething in her castigation of the Conservative campaign. Braverman’s pre-post-match analysis claims her party is “haemorrhaging votes” to Nigel Farage after tacking to the centre under Sunak; the rise of Reform, she insists, is “entirely our own fault”.

Commenting on Reform’s candidate controversies, Braverman says Sunak’s “cries of hurt and anger look less powerful when the Conservative Party was perfectly happy to take the money from Frank Hester”. Hester, of course, is the Tory donor reported to have said Labour candidate Diane Abbott made him want to “hate all black women”.

Braverman, in short, has fired the first shot in the Conservative Party civil war, beginning 5 July 2024. The former home secretary is one of a few genuinely safe Tories this election — with her constituency projected to remain Conservative even in the most apocalyptic scenarios. As such, the coming Tory conflict, this latest Telegraph op-ed stresses, is one Braverman looks set to play a starring role in.

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Braverman’s sabotage operation, as it will be viewed by her critics, is doubly damaging for Rishi Sunak in light of the Tories’ shock “show of unity” on Tuesday. Yesterday evening, a tanned-looking Boris Johnson (he’s spent most of this campaign on holiday) told an adoring crowd of Tory activists: “When Rishi asked me to come and help of course I couldn’t say no. We’re all here because we love our country.”

He warned a Labour super-majority would be “pregnant with horrors” and accused Keir Starmer of trying to “usher in the most left-wing Labour government since the war”. He also urged traditional Conservative voters not to back Reform, adding: “Don’t let the Putinistas deliver the Corbynistas.”

The thinking is this: the vast bulk of traditional Tory voters backed Boris Johnson in 2019, but many have since been wooed by Farage. The ex-PM, ergo, is the man to win them back. Johnson’s pitch to those Tory-Reform switchers is the epitome of Sunak’s loss-minimisation strategy.

And in fairness to the former prime minister, having covered this election for over five weeks now, no Conservative crowd has seemed quite so energised. But Johnson also brings to the campaign stage a great deal of political baggage — as Rishi Sunak, his resigned former chancellor, well knows.

As such, the political reaction was pretty predictable. Liberal Democrat Deputy Leader Daisy Cooper decried Boris Johnson’s appearance as “an insult to everyone who made heartbreaking sacrifices during the pandemic”. Keir Starmer, meanwhile, claimed this morning he’s not “in the slightest” bit worried about the return of Johnson. “I’ve been arguing that the last 14 years have been about chaos and division”, he said. “Last night they wheeled out the architect of chaos and division”.

Nor has the backlash been limited to the Conservative Party’s opponents. Transport minister Huw Merriman, who is standing down this election, even suggested Johnson’s political reappearance could lose his vote.

Minutes after the former PM’s speech, Merriman declared on X/Twitter: “Given my refusal to support this man and to then welcome a change from his leadership when the wheels of public and parliamentary tolerance finally fell off, I’m not sure how this pitches for my vote.”

“Isn’t it great to have our Conservative family united, my friends?”, Boris Johnson told Tory activists last night. Reality never was the ex-PM’s favoured muse.

It was a final appeal for faux unity, undermined immediately by the stresses and competing egos of modern Conservative politics. A fitting eulogy, one could well allege, for Rishi Sunak’s tenure as prime minister.

Lunchtime briefing

Minister suggests he may not vote Conservative after surprise Boris Johnson speech

Stride warns of ‘extraordinary’ Labour landslide ‘the like of which we have never seen’

Lunchtime soundbite

‘He is the man that couldn’t tell the truth to the House of Commons. He won’t have done them any good at all.’

— Nigel Farage reacts to Boris Johnson’s eleventh hour general election campaign intervention. Via TalkTV

Now try this…

Everyone except Rishi Sunak knows he’s destined for failure
Tanya Gold argues that the prime minister, for the first time in his life, wasn’t up to the task. Via Politico

Jewish figures criticise ‘stigmatising’ Tory attack on Starmer family time
The Guardian reports.

Deputy PM Oliver Dowden reveals his pick for next Tory leader in leaked recording
i reports Oliver Dowden said the only Conservative of his generation who could be leader, other than Rishi Sunak, was the current health secretary. (Paywall)

On this day in 2023:

Where do the ‘New Conservatives’ fit in Rishi Sunak’s crowded factional field?

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