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Tory leadership hopefuls jostle for position as party licks its wounds

07 Jul 2024 6 minute read
Former health secretary Victoria Atkins and former immigration minister Robert Jenrick, appearing on the BBC 1 current affairs programme, Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg. Photo Jeff Overs/BBC/PA Wire

Leading contenders in the battle to replace Rishi Sunak and restore the Tories’ fortunes have been making initial pitches to Conservatives for support.

Suella Braverman, Robert Jenrick and Victoria Atkins used a series of newspaper articles and interviews to say what they think went wrong for the Tories and how the party can turn itself around following its worst-ever election result.

Former home secretary Mrs Braverman said the party needed to take a tougher line on reducing immigration, claiming some Tories had treated voters like “mugs” and Mr Sunak had run an “idiotic strategy”.

She said the party was facing an “existential threat” from Nigel Farage’s Reform UK.


Ex-immigration minister Robert Jenrick said failing to reduce numbers coming to the UK was “our biggest and most damaging failure” and the former government “insulted the public with decisions that caused net migration to spiral to unprecedented levels”.

And Ms Atkins said the country was still “instinctively Conservatives” despite an election which resulted in the Tories returning just 121 MPs, the lowest in the party’s history, with Labour winning a majority of 174.

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Mrs Braverman said: “We Tories need to face facts: we failed in office and deserved this result.

“Any analysis of the worst general election in our history that doesn’t start there is self-comforting or self-serving.”

Mrs Braverman, who is likely to seek support on the party’s right on a platform of leaving the European Convention on Human Rights, scrapping the Human Rights Act and rewriting the Equality Act, said Labour’s cautious approach in the campaign worked “only because it faced our idiotic strategy of intermittently and inconsistently making ‘Tory Right’ noises – which disintegrated when set against our liberal Conservative record”.

She added: “I say again, whatever some of my colleagues think, the voters aren’t mugs: they saw what we did in office and ignored what we insincerely said while campaigning.

“High taxes, high immigration, and – I can hardly bear to say this – children literally physically mutilated by insane political correctness on our watch.”


On GB News, she said: “Millions of our voters were betrayed and angry with the Conservatives and they went to an alternative, Reform.

“I believe whoever’s leading the party, whoever’s in the party needs to acknowledge this basic truth, that we are facing an existential threat from Reform and we need to change ourselves to ensure that we neutralise that threat, that we bring those people back home.”

She warned against any attempt to change the party’s rules to deprive members of a say in choosing the next leader.

“There is a serious effort afoot in the party by certain groups to cut out the members and disenfranchise them and they want to ensure that MPs regain the right and the exclusive right to choose the leader. That would be totally devastating to our party.”


Mr Jenrick, who would also put a tougher line on immigration at the heart of any leadership pitch, wrote in the Sunday Times: “The reason for this near-existential result was not that we were too left-wing or too right-wing.

“Nor because we had this slogan not that slogan.

“No, the fundamental reason we lost is because we failed to deliver what we promised for the British people.”

After Brexit and a promise to take control of the borders “the government then insulted the public with decisions that caused net migration to spiral to unprecedented levels”.

On illegal immigration, Mr Sunak “promised we would stop the boats” but “crossings are now at a record high”.

“The government adopted strident language, but stopped short of the robust action required to deliver,” Mr Jenrick said.

He also pointed to failures on the economy and the NHS.

Mr Jenrick followed up his Sunday Times article with an appearance on BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg where he stopped short of launching a leadership campaign.

“I honestly don’t think that three days on from the General Election, in which we’ve just lost so many of our friends and colleagues, that it is right to have self-indulgent conversations like this,” he said.

Pressed further, Mr Jenrick said: “The first step for the party is to have a proper honest diagnosis about what’s gone wrong.”


Asked if that means a long handover to the next Tory leader, Mr Jenrick replied: “I would support a longer campaign.

“I think we as a party have to think very carefully about what’s happened and once we have that, unite behind that common set of true Conservative principles and move forward – and above all hold Keir Starmer to account.”

Former health secretary Ms Atkins said there was still a “real opportunity” for the Tories to recover, with Labour’s support “spread very thinly, a little bit like margarine”.

She told the BBC the country was still “instinctively Conservative” despite the Labour landslide.

“In terms of their values, their instinct they are, I believe still instinctively Conservative: they want lower taxes, they want to build a better future for their children, they want us to help them thrive in their personal lives and in their livelihoods

“And so those values are important to us all. What we need to do is to make sure that we are acting on those values, but also ensuring that we have policies that deliver on the sorts of issues that were being raised.”

She said: “Please don’t think I’m trying to turn away from the very loud, clear messages to us as a party, but I do observe that the support for the Labour Party in this election has spread very thinly, a little bit like margarine.”

She did not rule out standing in the Tory leadership race but said it was not yet time for candidates to launch their campaigns.

She said: “This weekend is not about leadership.”

Mr Sunak said he would resign as Conservative Party leader when he delivered his final speech in Downing Street after losing the General Election.

He said he would step down “not immediately, but once the formal arrangements for selecting my successor are in place”.

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Valerie Matthews
Valerie Matthews
7 days ago

They are fishing from a very inept pool!All /Proper Tories’ gone, many years agop. we are left with the inadequates!

Fi yn unig
Fi yn unig
6 days ago

No doubt about which way the Tories are turning. Right, right, far right, right over the hills and far away. ‘Come and complete your reverse takeover Nige. We’ll discuss a new name. Toryform, Toreform, Retory, Reformative or HATE UK’.

S Duggan
S Duggan
6 days ago

They haven’t learnt yet – their demise wasn’t due to immigration issues or not delivering more tax cuts for the rich – it was due to not addressing the cost of living crisis, the hardship millions are living through right now. If Labour address these issues the Tories could find themselves out of power for a very very long time. Amen to that.

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