The Tory Right’s rebellion: What will it mean for Sunak?

The ‘New Conservatives’ are the latest hard right rebel group to enter Rishi Sunak’s crowded factional horizon. They join a long line of party caucuses jostling for political space.

Right-Wing Watch

Long festering tensions within Tory party finally erupted this week. Following the sacking of Suella Braverman, hard-right Tory MPs hastily regrouped. Rebellion over the loss of their ‘darling of the Right’ was inevitable among the populist wing of the party. But the more ambiguous question remains: How far will the ‘insurgents’ go?

Angered, not only at the defenestration of the controversial home secretary but at the extraordinary return of the prominent anti-Brexiteer David Cameron, the ‘New Conservatives’ met to vent their fury on their fellow Tories. The group comprises around 25 Tory MPs and is co-chaired by Miriam Cates and Danny Kruger. Drawn largely from those elected in 2019, migration is, predictably, their biggest concern. On launching in the summer, they called on the PM to cut net migration from 606,000 in 2022 to below 226,000 by the next election, in order to ‘save face.’

In a statement this week, the group vowed to instigate a fundraising campaign to bolster financial support for the re-election of right-wing Tories. Clearly they believed that the appointment of the Ester McVey as ‘Common sense minister’ to tackle ‘woke’ issues and represent the Tory Right at the Cabinet table, was unlikely to persuade ‘red wall’ voters to vote Conservative next time.

Cates and Kruger expressed deep disappointment that Downing Street had decided to give up on the voters Boris Johnson won over in the 2019 general election.

They said: “Until yesterday, we held onto the hope that the government still believed in the realignment – that they would work to rebalance our economy, reorient our foreign policy, radically reduce migration, and restore common sense in our schools and universities. That hope – the project of the realignment – has now dwindled.”

Kruger, who was once David Cameron’s speechwriter, has become a prominent voice among right-wing backbenchers. While his co-chair Miriam Cates, the fertility-trailblazing, culture warrior, is considered a rising star of the Right, and has successfully amassed a tight-knit group of supporters. 

The ‘New Conservatives’ are the latest hard right rebel group to enter Rishi Sunak’s crowded factional horizon. They join a long line of party caucuses jostling for political space, including the well-established Common Sense Group, the Northern Research Group, staunch Brexiteers, the European Research Group (ERG), Net Zero Scrutiny Group, the Blue Collar Conservatives, Conservative Democratic Organisation, and the National Conservatives.

Whilst operating under different names, these rebel groups share commonalities, both in terms of political aims and personnel. John Hayes, for example, is the founder of the Common Sense Group, and also President of the New Conservatives. In response to Braverman’s sacking, Hayes, who is a good friend of the former Home Secretary and was reportedly a political mentor to her (says it all really) said: “she is a remarkable voice for common sense in government so she will be a big loss.” Tom Hunt, Vice Chairman of the Common Sense group and MP for Ipswich, was the named author of the New Conservatives’ twelve-point plan for migration.

The pugnacious former Labour aide turned Tory deputy chairman, Lee Anderson, sits in a number of breakaway groups. As well as being a member of the Common Sense Group and of the New Conservatives, Anderson is chair of the Blue Collar Conservatives caucus, the pressure group who identify as working-class Tories. Anderson took over from Ester McVey as chair in October 2022. Other crossover MPs include Nick Fletcher, Danny Kruger, Jonathan Gullis, Brendan Clarke-Smith, Gareth Bacon, Marco Longhi and Alexander Stafford. 

Brexit backlash

The return of David Cameron, who led the Remain campaign in the 2016 referendum, to the heart of government predictably sparked recoil among Tory Brexiteers. Brexit-backer, former Tory donor, and president of the Boris Johnson-supporting Conservative Democratic Organisation, Peter Cruddas said the appointment was a disaster: “The coup is complete, Remain has won and democracy has lost,” he said.

One Tory MP on the ERG said they were “too depressed to think about it,” and former Brexit minister Lord David Frost said the reshuffle meant Sunak was taking the country “back to the past.”

Ardent Eurosceptic Jacob Rees-Mogg joined the backlash. Cameron “got the Brexit issue wrong,” said the former cabinet minister, and his return could “potentially push” some Tory voters towards Reform, formerly the Brexit Party.

On the sacking of Braverman, Rees-Mogg told GB News: “I think it’s a mistake. Suella understands what the country thinks about migration, the concerns the country has, is serious about it, was determined to get it down.”

Braverman’s letter

In a parting shot, Braverman wrote a blistering three-page letter to Sunak. In it she said the PM had “manifestly and repeatedly failed to deliver on every single one” of the policies that she claimed they had agreed on when she joined his cabinet and helped him to become prime minister. “Someone needs to be honest,” Braverman said, “your plan is not working, we have endured record election defeats, your resets have failed, and we are running out of time.”

The letter was hyped among the right-wing press, which, as we know, has never been exactly enamoured of Sunak, favouring his predecessor, Liz Truss. As the Mail’s front page famously headlined during the Tory leadership battle in 2022, ‘Truss: Back me or it’ll be Rishi.’  

Reacting to the letter, the Telegraph didn’t hold back in showing support for the beleaguered ex minister. ‘Braverman’s letter was written in fire – none of us can doubt what a snake Sunak is,’ was the headline of an extraordinary op-ed by Telegraph columnist Allison Pearson.

“In sacking a woman who dared to stand up to shrill Leftists and dangerous Islamists, the PM has forever destroyed his reputation,” she continued, arguing the letter must count as one of the “most devastating epistolary verdicts ever pronounced on a Prime Minister by a sacked member of his Cabinet.”

Incredible really, that a national newspaper that is generally considered to be one of the “big three” quality newspapers in Britain, and backs the Conservatives, would allow an op-ed piece describing a Tory PM as a ‘snake.’

Predictably, other right-wing media sources were quick to jump into the Braverman sacking/Cameron appointment furore.

‘Rish Sunak ‘should prepare for WAR’ following Braverman sacking, says Neil Parish,’ headlined the right-wing news channel, in reference to the former Tory MP’s comments in a GB News’ discussion with Eamonn Holmes and Isabel Webster. Parish said he believes Sunak had better prepare for war because Suella is “the standard bearer of the right of the party.” This is the man who, incidentally, resigned as an MP in 2022 after admiting to watching pornography in the House of Commons.

Adding to Sunak’s torment, were reports that a number of MPs are set to submit letters of no confidence in Sunak. Tory MP Dame Andrea Jenkyns, who serves as deputy chairwoman of the ERG, was the first to do so. She published a searing letter criticising Rishi Sunak, accusing him of “purging the centre-right from his cabinet.”

Rwanda plan ruled unlawful

The week went from bad to worse for the Prime Minister, with the announcement that the government’s controversial plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda had been confirmed as illegal by the Supreme Court, ending over 18 months of legal battles. Following the ruling, the Tory Right immediately went on the attack, inevitably using the announcement as bait to whip up a moral panic and campaign to leave the ECHR. Tory MPs reportedly met at the 5 Hertford Street private members club in Mayfair, where they apparently agreed to send no confidence letters in Sunak and try to coordinate more from colleagues in a plot to remove him. 

Lee Anderson demanded the government “ignore the law” and send asylum seekers to Rwanda anyway. “People are fed up in this country,” he huffed. “They’re fed up with being taken for a ride and paying their taxes to people who have no right to be here and are criminals. The government needs to show our leadership and send them back the same day.”

With the pressure piling up, the government quickly rallied around their divisive policy. New home secretary, James Cleverly, said that he planned to change the agreement with Rwanda into a treaty. This, he said, would have extra clauses to stop asylum seekers from being returned home – and therefore get around the courts.

Sacked Suella weighed in, saying the government should “introduce emergency legislation” to block the European Convention on Human Rights.

Keen to prove himself as neither weak nor indecisive and thereby confound Braverman, Sunak announced emergency legislation will get the Rwanda plan off the ground. Speaking at PMQs, he said he would ‘finalise’ a new treaty with Rwanda after the Supreme Court ruling and said, “if necessary, I’m prepared to revisit our domestic legal frameworks.”

The announcement was welcomed among some right-wing Tories, who described it as bolder than expected and predicting it would buy him time. Tory MP Jonathan Gullis told Times Radio that legislation is “entirely the right thing to do,” though he also warned “the devil will be in the detail.”

On the one hand, the sacking of the once deemed ‘unsackable’ Braverman shows Sunak’s eventual willingness to assert his authority and stand up to the hard right. But now, in the wake of the Rwanda ruling, he’s faced with the additional problem of showing he can deliver on a pledge that matters most to the rebellious Right of the party – stopping the arrival of asylum seekers on small boats across the Channel.

Only time will tell if Sunak’s future will utlimately be decided by the Supreme Court’s verdict on the Rwanda scheme. 

While revolt is clearly gaining momentum among right-wing Tory ranks, whether there will be the numbers to realistically oust him remains to be seen. As Tory MP Stephen Hammond told the Independent: “All too often the right has shown itself to be well organised and noisy so that the impact is somewhat larger than the reality of their numbers.”

Apart from the predictable noise from the Brexiteer, anti-migration tribe, we have yet to see a giant rebellion. And apart from the furious no-confidence letter from Jenkyns, where are the other no confidence letters in Sunak that are reportedly been agreed in a ‘plot to remove the PM?’

The question therefore remains: Will tacking back to the centre diminish the Right, rather than embolden it, and prove that the populist factions are not as powerful as assumed?

Then there is Keir Starmer’s own internal rebellion to consider. The Labour leader has also had a difficult week. Eight frontbenchers quit Labour on November 15 over the party’s position on a ceasefire in Gaza. More than a quarter of Labour MPs – 56 – voted in favour of a ceasefire. Among the most high-profile names choosing to defy the Labour leadership was Jess Phillips, in what was a major blow to Keir Starmer.

While the opposition’s battles will offer some respite for Sunak, who will be more than happy to see Starmer squirm, the latest poll brings more bad news for Sunak. A poll for the Mirror, following Monday’s reshuffle, found support for the Tories has fallen by 4 points in just a fortnight to 19 percent. Labour was up 2 points to 46 percent, while backing for Reform UK also rose 2 points to 10 percent, giving Labour a 27-point lead.

But news of their party’s nosediving support could well vitalise the Right further. The biggest risk for Sunak is that neither wing of his divided party will be convinced about his reshuffle. As one blue-collar Conservative said, his views on the restructure were “unprintable.”

And with the right-wing press not exactly on his side, it’s going to be a testing next few months for the PM, that is for sure. And, as the Conservative party continues to engage in bitter internal warring, the country continues to face crises on multiple fronts. 

As for whose light is dying, it is difficult to see a long term future for either Sunak or his government. As to the Conservative Party itself: it has always possessed a remarkable ability to prioritise its grip on power, but with an aging support base and deep ideological splits, it is certainly a long way from the sunlight.  

Right-Wing Media Watch – Douglas Murray astounds with outrageous anti-Muslim comments 

Douglas Murray, the associate editor of the Spectator, is well-known for his hostility towards immigration and for making assertions widely described as Islamophobic.

“Conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harder across the board,” Islam is an “opportunist infection,” Muslims are a “demographic time bomb” and mosques should be “pulled down,” are among the far-right polemicist’s most deplorable comments.

So strong are Murray’s remarks that one of his former colleagues described him as a “thoroughly nasty piece of work full of venom and hatred for Muslims”, as someone who has a “perverse and deranged obsession with all things Islam related.”

Murray’s book, entitled: ‘The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam,’ which, as the title suggests, argues that Europe is dying, being murdered in fact, by hordes of immigrants, was deified among far-right circles in the US and Europe. Alt-right Hungary PM Viktor Orbán famously posted a photo of himself on his official Facebook page holding up the appalling book.

Given his history of railing against what he views as the threat that Muslims and Islam pose to the west, it comes as little surprise that the British journalist is using the current Israel-Palestine crisis to attempt to advance his case.

Last week, he took aim at Scotland’s First Minister, Humza Yousaf. In an interview for the US news podcast, the Rubin Report, Murray describes Yousaf as the “first minister of Gaza,” who has “infiltrated our system.” He also attacked Yousaf’s wife, Nadia El-Nakla, who is Palestinian and has spoken publicly about her fears about her family being trapped in Gaza, and how three of her young cousins, including a two-year-old, have shrapnel injuries after an Israeli drone missile hit near them. Murray describes El-Nakla as a “particularly nasty piece of work,” who he claims has been on the record before “smearing the Jewish state in all sorts of ways.”

“But people like Humza Yousaf, I say it carefully, have infiltrated our system. He does not seem to be much bothered by the situation of the Scottish people, or the people of Glasgow who have one of the lowest life expectancies not just in Britain but anywhere in Europe,” Murray continued.

Criticism of the comments was widespread. On X, the interview was recognised for what it was. Vile.

“Disgusting prejudice (again) from Douglas Murray,” said Miqdaad Versi of the Muslim Council of Britain.

Keen to vocalise his hate-filled thoughts on the future of Gaza, Murray wrote: “Maybe they [Israel] will finally put an end to this insoluble nightmare, raze Hamas to the ground, or clear all the Palestinians from the benighted strip…. It could be a good time to do it. Very few countries in the Middle East still pretend to care about the Palestinians. Few ever did.”

The former Home Secretary Suella Braverman and the political commentator Douglas Murray are seemingly two of a kind. In September, Braverman told parliament that Murray holds “mainstream, insightful and perfectly decent political views.”

Commenting on Braverman’s remarks, Zara Mohammed, Secretary-General of the Muslim Council of Britain, said: Let there be no doubt: Murray’s views are anything but mainstream; they are on the fringe and deeply Islamophobic. That the Home Secretary would defend Murray’s views as “mainstream”, this time at the dispatch box no less, is as outrageous as it is dangerous.”

Most worrying, apart from being endorsed by a frontline minister (now sacked thankfully), is the fact that Murray, despite his relentless Islamophobic narrative, is given high-profile platforms to facilitate his far-right views. He is the associate editor of the Spectator, which, having been first published in 1828, is the oldest surviving weekly magazine in the world. With access to platforms like this, Murray is able to gain significant influence.

Subsequently, he has a large following among the far-right, not just in Britain and Europe, but, particularly, the United States. As such, his public bile cannot be dismissed as the typical populist rants you find in the likes of the Mail and the Sun, but dangerous ideology from a seemingly pathological mind that holds substantial authority.

Woke-bashing of the week – Right-wingers’ vent their National Trust takeover failure fury at charity’s ‘woke calendar’

In the run-up to the National Trust’s AGM, the right-wing press couldn’t get enough of the anti-woke pressure group, Restore Trust, which had put forward five candidates to be elected to the charity’s trustee body. The wannabee infiltrators even had the backing of Nigel Farage and Jacob Rees-Mogg. But despite the Right’s best efforts, Restore proved unsuccessful, with none of the candidates making it onto the board.

Undeterred by the disastrous attempt to put the likes of Farage’s mate Lady Violet Manners, the eldest daughter of UKIP supporter the Duke of Rutland, on the trustee board so they could change the direction of the charity and get rid of its ‘woke agenda,’ the right-wing press went on the rampage about the Trust’s new calendar.  

Rather than reporting factually and honesty about the election results, which saw a record turnout of voters, the Restore-endorsing press brazenly claimed Trust members believe the charity has gone ‘too woke.’ Don’t they realise that members agree with the charity’s inclusive ethos, as proven by the election results which voted in favour on four resolutions and elected five members of the National Trust Council and had nothing to do with Restore Trust.

“Members claim National Trust has gone ‘too woke’ after launching charity calendar that excludes Christmas and Easter – but include other religions’ festivals,’ sensationalised the Daily Mail.

The report does make reference to the AGM, but only to mention that the calendar was objected to, amid ‘wider concerns about the charity increasingly focusing on gay history and focusing on the slavery links of its historic properties.’ It cites a Trust member who apparently raised concerns at the AGM about the ‘inclusivity calendar’ to an apparent ‘round of applause.’ One of the applauding members, the Mail continues, observed that the calendar was an ‘indication the Trust had gone ‘too woke.’

Rather than just accepting defeat, the Restore-revering Daily Telegraph went for the same angle, focusing on Christmas and Easter being excluded from the NT’s calendar.

“While Diwali, Eid and Ramadan feature in the heritage group’s “inclusivity and wellbeing” calendar, distributed to volunteers, Christmas and Easter go unmentioned,” it bemoaned.

At least the Telegraph mentions the unsuccessful standing of Lord Sumption, one of the Restore Trust-backed candidates who sought election to the charity’s council.  But only to quote him moaning about the so-called rigging of the election to get favoured candidate voted in.

“Its practical consequence is plain. It is to convert a system of election into a system of co-option by the trustees.

“That is a strange thing to do. It’s strange for a body which is designed… to hold the trustees to account to be in practice selected by the trustees themselves,” said Sumption.

Where have we heard similar accusations of a ‘rigged’ electoral system by someone who didn’t get his own way so decided to make baseless claims that the election was stolen from him? Oh yes, it was from Donald Trump.

Will Restore Trust be back for ‘round-four’ next year? Sharing a similar thick-skin and brazenness as Trump, it’s hard to believe they won’t be.

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is author of Right-Wing Watch

Comments are closed.