'Insanity': will Rishi Sunak face another Tory leadership contest?

Letters of no confidence going in as Conservative divisions come to the boil

Rishi Sunak with a hand removing his crown
Party rules state that at least 15% of Tory MPs must write a no-confidence letter to trigger a leadership challenge
(Image credit: Illustrated / Getty Images)

Ousting Rishi Sunak before the next election would be "insanity", the chair of the Conservative Party has warned.

Asked by The Telegraph about the prospect of another leadership contest in the coming months, Richard Holden said that "divided parties don't win elections" and urged party colleagues not to be "introspective" ahead of a vote on the planned new law on the Rwanda migrants plan.

But Sunak "could face a leadership challenge", said Politico, with some in Tory circles comparing the current state of affairs to the "dog days" of Theresa May's premiership in 2018.

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What did the papers say?

The letters of no confidence are "already said to be in double figures", said the Daily Mail. A senior Tory told the BBC's Chris Mason that "lots of MPs" are "rapidly forming the view the current management is not performing and will not deliver an election win".

At least 18 Tories have submitted letters of no confidence, according to the Daily Mirror. But party rules state that at least 15% of Tory MPs must write a no-confidence letter to trigger a leadership challenge, meaning at least 53 MPs would have to do so.

Nevertheless, a "shadow leadership contest is under way", wrote Rachel Cunliffe for The New Statesman. He claimed he Tories were split into three camps: the "Sunak-backers", the "opposition might be good for us" group, and the "noisiest group", which consists of MPs who never wanted Sunak as leader ("disgruntled Trussites, die-hard Johnsonites, Bravermanite New Conservatives").

As the pressure grows on Sunak and talk of a leadership challenge gathers pace, several commentators have written what could be read as political obituaries for the prime minister. The Conservative Party is now "ungovernable", said Lewis Goodall, also in The New Statesman, and it would take a "political titan to unite it", but "Sunak isn't that".

Since becoming PM, he has "often seemed tetchy and ill-equipped" to handle "the most basic criticisms that come with the job", said Matthew D'Ancona in The New European. Billed as the "grown-up who was going to restore adult government", Sunak turned out to be the "most peevish toddler of the lot".

With potential opponents circling, he "only has himself to blame for his humiliation", argued Goodall. Rwanda is a policy that Sunak "inherited and had no need to implement, still less to make it a hallmark of Tory virility".

But the BBC's Chris Mason believes Sunak could win a leadership vote. "Plenty of Tory MPs" now think it is "entirely possible" Sunak could face a vote of confidence, he wrote. "In all likelihood he would win such a vote, but it even happening would be crippling to his authority." But "let's be clear", Mason added. "It may well not happen."

What next?

The "more immediate issue" is what right-wing Tory MPs will do when the Rwanda bill comes to a vote "as early as next week", said Katy Balls in The Spectator. Labour has said it will oppose the bill, and if these Tory MPs team up with Labour to block it, Sunak will be "out of options and his authority will be shot".

Meanwhile, with almost theatrical timing, Nigel Farage has returned to centre stage. He "could in theory emerge as the winner of 'I'm a Celeb' on Sunday night", said Politico, "just as the Tories are in the middle of tearing themselves apart over immigration".

Tory MPs are "spooked" by the Reform Party founder and "freaking out" about his possible return, said Politico. After a recent poll gave Farage's party an influential 11% slice of the vote, the Conservatives "should be scared", said a pollster.

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