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Why Suella Braverman’s Conservative leadership bid is imploding


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This afternoon, a new cohort of 643 MPs will squeeze onto the commons’ green benches, with Labour’s elect sitting to the right of the Speaker’s chair for the first time since 2010.

Prime minister Keir Starmer, having secured the keys to No 10 after last Thursday’s election, is expected to utter his first words from the government despatch box. Meanwhile, Rishi Sunak, the vanquished Leader of the Opposition, is also expected to make a return having appointed his interim shadow cabinet yesterday evening.

The first job of this new House of Commons will be to elect a Speaker — likely to be Sir Lindsay Hoyle with no other potential candidate having declared their intentions publicly. Once that election, overseen by new Father of the House Sir Edward Leigh, is carried out, the clerks will begin swearing in the hordes of new MPs. It’s a process expected to take days.

As I alluded to above, Rishi Sunak appointed a shadow cabinet on Tuesday in his first act as leader of His Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition. The two notable exclusions were former party chairman Richard Holden and ex-foreign secretary Lord Cameron, whose resignations were accepted by Sunak. Cameron’s erstwhile deputy, Andrew Mitchell, becomes the new shadow foreign secretary, while Holden is succeeded as party chair by Richard Fuller.

Find a full list of Sunak’s interim top team here.

But with the former prime minister having stated his intention to resign as Tory party leader, the race to succeed him — and appoint a non-interim shadow cabinet — is very much underway.

As things stand, the Tory MPs thought to harbour leadership ambitions are Priti Patel, backbencher; James Cleverly, shadow home secretary; Victoria Atkins, shadow health secretary; Tom Tugendhat, shadow security minister; Kemi Badenoch, shadow levelling up secretary; Robert Jenrick, backbencher; and Suella Braverman, backbencher.

Of all these potential candidates, by far the noisiest in recent days has been Suella Braverman, the former home secretary and someone once considered as the Conservative right’s natural champion.

Unfortunately for Braverman, those days seem rather behind us. Recent reports have suggested that Braverman’s MP backers are departing in search of other Tory right doyens, including and especially Robert Jenrick. One of these defectors is Danny Kruger, the influential co-chair of the New Conservatives group, whom the Telegraph reports is snubbing Braverman in favour of the former immigration minister.

Reacting to the report, the ex-home secretary dismissed Jenrick as a “centrist Rishi supporter”. “He definitely comes from the Left of the party”, she said. “He voted for Remain in the Brexit referendum. He was a big, kind of centrist, Rishi supporter.

“Wasn’t the story that he was sent by Rishi to keep an eye on me in the Home Office?”, she added.

Braverman’s response to her declining political fortunes has been to double down on her leadership pitch as the incipient race’s most forthright rightwinger.

As such, Braverman addressed the National Conservatism conference in Washington yesterday evening, delivering a speech that blamed “virtue signalling” “liberal Conservatives” for the party’s historic election defeat.

“We were going to use our Brexit freedoms and stop waves of illegal migrants. We were going to cut taxes. We were going to stop the lunatic woke virus. We did none of this”, she said, adding: “My party governed as liberals and we were defeated as liberals. But seemingly, as ever, it is Conservatives who are to blame.”

Read Braverman’s full remarks here.

The former home secretary also addressed the Popular Conservatism conference this morning, joining the summit via a video link from Washington. The Popular Conservatism “movement” was formed by Liz Truss earlier this year — but the former-PM-turned-former-MP was nowhere to be seen this morning.

Addressing the conference, Braverman claimed that Rishi Sunak’s programme in government could have been “quite happily” adopted by the new Labour administration, as she accused the ex-PM of focusing on “farcical gimmicks”.

The former home secretary, simply put, has placed herself at the vanguard of the Conservative Party’s recriminatory struggle. And all this comes after she penned an op-ed for the Telegraph last week — less than 48 hours before polls opened on Thursday — declaring the election already over and urging the Tories to prepare for opposition.

That piece, rubbished by ex-cabinet minister Robert Buckland as an instance of “astonishing indiscipline”, is unlikely to have endeared Braverman to the rump Tory parliamentary party.

On top of this, a tracker of Conservative MPs’ ideological positioning published today suggests Braverman is the most right-wing of the remaining Tory party, pipping ex-common sense minister Esther McVey to first place. According to the widget, put together by The Times, Braverman inherits her crown from arch-Thatcherite Sir John Redwood who stood down at last week’s election.

This suggests the former home secretary isn’t the ideal candidate to unite a Conservative Party which, as I noted last week, seems relatively finely balanced between moderate and right-wing types.

At this stage, therefore, it isn’t entirely clear who is supporting Braverman to be Conservative leader. It had been suggested that Braverman would win the backing of the Tory rebel right, who formed a united block in the battle over the Rwanda Bill at the start of this year. That, after all, remains the central challenge set before the right’s leadership contenders: unite the party right, comprised of the so-called “five families” of Tory factions, and dispatch the moderate tribute in the Tory membership vote. But Braverman now looks in a singularly poor position — relative to Jenrick, Badenoch and Patel — to achieve this.

By my calculation, the implosion of Braverman’s campaign creates an opportunity for a prospective contender like Robert Jenrick. His leadership chances have strengthened remarkably since I wrote this in February:

Jenrick’s decision to restyle himself as a trenchant but steadily competent rightwinger could make him a dark horse in the leadership contest (likely) to come. A politician whose principles mirror those of the Conservative selectorate, but who also exudes competent vibes, might be what the grassroots have sorely lacked in recent champions (Truss, Johnson) — and therefore desperately want. That appears to be Jenrick’s calculation, in any case.”

All that said, what seems certain at this stage is the Conservative leadership contest will not get underway officially for some time yet. The consensus among Tory MPs seems to be that a period of reflection is needed before the fiery recriminations of a leadership election begin. (Someone tell Suella).

Conservative MPs are due to meet this week to elect a new 1922 Committee, the body that will then go on to decide the leadership rules and timetable. Significantly, both of those declared to be running for committee chair, veteran backbenchers Bob Blackman and Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, are said to favour a longer contest. It comes after Sir Graham Brady, well-known for his role in the downfall of a series of Tory PMs, stood down at the last election.

Lunchtime briefing​

Lunchtime soundbite​

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What is it really like to live in 10 Downing Street?
Via The Times. (paywall)

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The Guardian reports.

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Politico’s Stefan Bosnia and Jacopo Barigazzi on the prime minister heading to NATO with a message of support on Ukraine.

On this day in 2021:​

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