Rishi Sunak has been urged to draw a line under the Partygate crisis by refreshing his top team.
As MPs prepared to debate a report that found Boris Johnson deliberately misled Parliament over lockdown parties at No. 10, the Conservatives’ Tobias Ellwood led calls for a ministerial reset. “This mini crisis should be turned into a major opportunity,” he told The Independent. Sunak should respond “with an overhaul of his cabinet” that shows he is “less fearful of right wing backlash”, said Ellwood, chair of the defence select committee and MP for Bournemouth East.
In a “weak” move, the prime minister has “dodged questions on whether he would throw his weight behind the Privileges Committee’s bombshell dossier” later today, said the Daily Mirror’s deputy political editor Lizzy Buchan. The debate comes “amid fresh anger over the Partygate scandal after the Mirror obtained footage of Tory aides boozing and dancing at a bash in Conservative HQ in December 2020”, she wrote.
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With a YouGov poll showing that just one in five voters think Sunak is in control of his party, “Downing Street will attempt a reset” in the coming weeks, predicted Bloomberg.
“Rishi Sunak is one of life’s optimists,” said Bloomberg. “But the Boris Johnson psychodrama and rising interest rates brought a palpable gloom to his Downing Street operation” last week, the news site said. His team “insist it’s time to move on from the Westminster soap opera” with a “series of new policies and a possible reshuffle promoting younger faces”.
MPs have said No. 10 “makes little secret of which cabinet ministers are out of favour”, wrote Sam Coates at Sky News last month. Home Secretary Suella Braverman and Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch are apparently on the list of “those who could be axed”.
A “bold reshuffle”, possibly in September, would signal a “reset a year out from the election campaign”, said Coates.
“One of the few saving graces for Sunak is that there is no serious threat to the right of the Tories,” said Katy Balls in The Spectator. But polling expert John Curtice warned that if Nigel Farage was to team up with Johnson as defenders of Brexit it would “probably kill off whatever small chances the Conservatives still have of winning the next election”.
This, said Balls, is “why there is already talk of ways to change the weather”. A reshuffle “could take place as early as July – with a focus on promoting women as part of a refreshed pre-election look”, she predicted.
‘A gradual shift’
Resetting “will be difficult”, said Bloomberg. Johnson is starting a new Daily Mail column that “will be watched closely for criticisms of Sunak” and the Tories face two by-elections in July. A third, in Nadine Dorries’ constituency, could come in the autumn, “just as the Tories look toward their annual conference for a further refresh”.
Robert Hayward, a Conservative peer and elections analyst, told the news site: “The party is trying to move on but Boris is a difficult person to move on from.”
In fact, a quieter overhaul might be taking place, said Christine Jardine at The Scotsman, as Sunak’s cabinet slowly loses its right-wingers. Many of Johnson’s greatest supporters are “either marginalised or set to stand down”, and senior figures “who regard themselves as the moderate centre are confident they will soon regain pre-eminence”.
Although Braverman and Badenoch “are still at the top table”, said Jardine, they are “increasingly powerless through a combination of their own missteps and a Prime Minister who is proving quite adept at manoeuvring difficult characters out of the way”.
Gradually, said Jardine, “the balance of power between Conservative factions is shifting”.
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