Tories’ civil war as Boris mulls joining grassroots conference

PMQs: Rishi Sunak focuses on local elections ahead of coronation

While everyone is looking forward to the coronation, Rishi Sunak has a major hurdle to get over today with the local elections which may prove the Tory psychodrama is far from over. Expectations for the Conservatives have been set very low (probably deliberately) but the real sting in the tail for the Prime Minister may come at the Conservative Democratic Organsation (CDO) conference on May 13.

On the face of it things are actually looking good for the Prime Minister.

When he came to power the Techne UK tracker poll had Labour’s lead at the 30 point mark, according to Friday’s survey that is now down to 14, less than half.

The same poll showed that the Conservatives now have seven in 10 of their voters in 2019 back on board, when a few months ago that figure was dangerous moving downwards.

Then the tacvtics have been played quite well – recemtly appointed chairman Greg Hands set the bar at 1,000 council seats lost tomorrow making anything less look good.

In the law of expectation management it is highly unlikely they will lose 1,000 seats.

But this does not mean that the local elections will not raise difficult questions for the Prime Minister and provide fooder for his opponents in the Conservative Party.

The fact that Boris Johnson is considering appearing at the CDO conference is significant – it means that his hopes of making a comeback are still there backed up by a large group of loyal supporters.

The conference will feature big names – mostly from the angry side of the party whi feel that Sunak was installed as the result of an undemocratic coup.

Top of the confirmed names is Boris loyalist Priti Patel who has become the political face of the CDO and a focal point for disatisfaction in Sunak.

Other Boris loyalists Jacob Rees-Mogg and Nadine Dorries will be speaking as will allies of the last Tory leader to be elected by the Conservative membership Liz Truss.

These include the IEA’s Mark Littlewood and Washington DC thinktank Heritage Foundation’s Nile Gardiner.

Added to that the push is being spearheaded by the Conservative Post’s Claire Bullivant, former MEP David Campbell Bannerman and former Tory Treasurer Lord Cruddas.

All three were part of the Bring Back Boris petition over the summer.

Ms Bullivant summed feelings up well: “The Party grassroots have lost many activists and volunteers having lost two democratically elected leaders, Boris and Liz, the two PMs they voted for.

“It is inevitable that the central Party machinery are saying these elections will be disasterous and trying to blaming Boris and Liz. But the reality is, there are many people working flat out to make the case that Conservative councils bring lower council taxes and better local services. That’s what people are voting for in local elections.

“We’ve crunched the numbers and we think we’ll probably only lose 250 seats max, which is to be expected at this time in the election cycle. You also just have to look at the results from 2019. If you use that as a benchmark some people are predicting the conservatives will actually gain council seats.”

Ms Patel has sent out a letter to attendees and CDO members which can only be described as a call to arms.

She said: “As someone who has been a lifelong grassroots campaigner and activist, I know how hard our members, activists and supporters work to campaign and fundraise for us.

“Whether it is delivering leaflets and canvassing in all weathers, or organising coffee mornings to raise funds, we are the heart, soul and backbone of the Party, but all too often our contributions are forgotten or taken for granted. Our ability to influence and debate policy is now non-existent.

“We have almost no say in the management and appointments of the Party. The central Party curtails our ability to select candidates locally to stand in elections. And as we have seen over the last year, there is no respect shown for our choice as Party Leader. That needs to change.”

There are continued reports that the way MPs installed Sunak and simply ousted the choices of the membership is still causing problems for the party machine.

James Baird, CDO deputy regional chairman for South West of England, said: “I think it’s fair to say that many conservative associations are expecting to make losses at today’s (presuming publication tomorrow) local elections.

“Many of us have struggled finding candidates, let alone the activists to support campaigning. There is a high level of apathy amongst the voters that would normally vote conservative in local elections – it’s not so much that they are voting for other parties, as that they are just not coming out to vote.”

MPs have admitted that the rage ove Boris Johnson being ousted has seen local members simply go on strike.

The issue though will be though how the local elections go.

Some experts have told that the Tories may lose at most 800 seats but it could be as little as 250.

Either way that will be much better than expected for Sunak and not great news for Starmer.

Some Tory MPs report that voters “are coming back” and have got over their anger, while others say they are having doors slammed int heir faces or previusly regular Tory voters are saying they will stay at home.

One Redd Wall MP, a strong support of Boris Johnson, actually was optimistic the Conservatives would make a small gain in his seat.

There is no doubt that Johnson and Truss allies will blame Sunak for a bad election but Sunak allies will claim it was the chaos caused by Johnson and Partygate and Truss’ mini-budget.

Some had written the political obituary of Boris Johnson over the Priveleges Committee inquiry into whether he deliberately lied to Parliament and the failed Brexit rebellion he hoped to lead on the Windsor Framework.

But the truth is that while the results may be mixed in the elections today, Sunak’s supporters have not vanquished Mr Johnson and the Tory psychodrama is set to continue until at least the next general election.

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