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Artillery Row

Get rid of Rishi

Sunak hanging on can only make things worse for the Conservatives and worse for Britain

As the idealism of the French Revolution first began to fade, giving way to the cynicism and despotism of the Consulate that was to follow, patriots began to be gripped by something known as “spy-fever”. The suspicion (not entirely unfounded) was that anyone could be a spy from one of France’s neighbors, determined to bring down the government and stop Republicanism spreading to their lands.  

This atmosphere of suspicion, intrigue and counter-intrigue against threats – both real and imagined — was the natural birthplace of la Terreur. There, in the ever-rising deluge of blood, was birthed the modern world’s first paranoid totalitarian state.  

Yet even in these times there could be found humor; as the regime began to creak, one police spy was asked to assess the popularity of a certain Corsican artillery commander, whose standing amongst the population was beginning to be a matter of concern. “I denounce the public,” read his witty — and rather brave — report. 

One wonders if Rishi Sunak’s spies are as frank in their reports. Perhaps there is no need anymore; over the last week, stories have broken about yet another rising tide of discontent amongst the Conservative Parliamentary Party. Rishi must think with envy of marching the Girondins to the guillotine. 

Following a first flurry of no-confidence letters after the handling of the Rwanda Bill in January, Conservative MPs have apparently submitted another round, prompting the PM to meet with Sir Graham Brady. Rumors are there may be as many as thirty sat in the big man’s inbox. This second round hasn’t been submitted in response to a particular piece of legislation or the government’s handling of a single issue, however, but by Sunak’s leadership in particular. 

After months of languishing more than 20 per cent behind Labour, a Budget that gave them little to celebrate and Lee Anderson’s defection to Reform MPs appear to have finally realized that they may be on the cusp of the greatest electoral defeat their party has ever suffered, and that the clock is ticking on the one nuclear option that might save them; changing leaders.

To any Conservative MP reading this — which I hope is many, as you are the intended audience — you are right. Do not doubt your instincts; time is running out, Rishi is running out of road. Heads must roll; they will either be yours, or his.

For those still on the fence, allow me to quote a right-wing leader about to be swept back into power after it looked like he would disappear into irrelevance; “What the hell have you got to lose?”

The plan, such as it was, has not worked. Rishi was crowned as the King of Clean; like the laying of hands, his white smile and easy-going honesty would cure the leprosy the Conservatives developed under Truss. But Rishi is no longer the man of Eat out to Help Out. He is the man of Frank Hester, tainted by a hundred insignificant grubby little scandals. Every time a Conservative MP meets the electorate, they picture them pockmarking their face like legions.

The order to “face the guns” with Rishi is predicated on the idea that these scandals might just be wiped away by something — anything — that might come along before the election. But it is far more likely that death by a thousand cuts will continue under Rishi. Although personally clean, Rishi is like a magnet for scandals because he is not setting the agenda. 

The electorate don’t really want the product you are selling

Rishi’s grand political message is, so far, a series of insignificant and unconnected policy announcements that give you nothing to sell to the electorate. What is the big selling point of Rishi’s premiership so far? That he is kind of banning smoking? That the weather has stopped the boats? That he still isn’t Liz Truss?

The electorate don’t really want the product you are selling. Isaac Levido is right when he says that they don’t want what Keir is selling either. But as a sales strategy, “our product is shitty — but not as shitty as our competition” is not going to make you millions. Rishi’s decision to cancel HS2 in Manchester is illustrative of this bad salesman+bad product conundrum; you need a great product to sell and a positive message to sell it with.

That’s why a “chop at the top” is not enough. The next leader cannot be another agendaless, bloodless managerialist; the idea of replacing Rishi with Penny Mordaunt on a 100-day “Contract with the Nation” is not a bad one, if you ignore the fact that Penny Mordaunt is the second-worst person possible to deliver this (the first is currently Prime Minister). As Mary Harrington argues;

… when you scratch the surface of Penny Mordaunt you find that there really is nothing but surface… She would do nothing to curb the current withdrawal of real power into closed cabals and permanent bureaucratic revolution.

The next leader must seize the agenda, occupy every talking point, park a tank on every lawn. They must come to the electorate with the promise of the one thing Tories haven’t done in years; delivery. Matt Goodwin has previously said that only the promise of a migration referendum can save the party. He is nearly right; immigration is certainly the only political issue that has significant cut through with a wide spread of the electorate — and a policy on which previous leaders have comprehensively failed.

But he is wrong in that a referendum is the only option; a single act, the biggest reform of immigration policy in this country’s history (which would sweep away barriers to controlling and reducing immigration) would allow the new leader to seize the initiative, restore popularity with the 2019 electorate and send a message that you are interested in — and capable of — governing. 

Should the new leader lose, it would also force Labour into choosing between what the majority of its supporters want — to undo these reforms and see immigration rise — and what the country wants; for your reforms to stay in place and immigration to stay reduced. This is essential political positioning for the next General Election. 

The time to strike is now; submit your letter and call on him to resign

On the cusp of presiding over the biggest election defeat in party history, Rishi is unlikely to put up a fight. Even if he does it is unlikely he would win; a second wipeout in May’s local elections will bring the scale of problem home to even the most diehard Rishi’ites. But after May will be too late. The time to strike is now; submit your letter and call on him to resign. If you are going to bring down Rishi, stab him in the front rather than the back; you’ll find you get a lot less blood on your shirt.

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