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Can Sunak Hold his Tory Coalition Together?

By Frank McKenna

By Frank McKenna

Rishi Sunak has steadied the Tory ship. But can he hold together his ‘broad church’ of a party if the local election results are as bad for the Conservatives as some are predicting?

Is the Conservative Party a cohesive organisation anymore? Or has it, as I suspect, become a collection of pressure groups, held together only by its desire to win another General Election and, in their eyes, save the country from the consequences of a Labour government?

And what is the government now for anyway? Boris Johnson was elected on the promise to ‘Get Brexit Done’. To his credit, Rishi Sunak appears to have delivered on this at least – but what plan, strategy, policy commitments do he and his cabinet colleagues have to tackle the growing number of issues the country faces, from the cost-of-living crisis to a busted NHS?

Out in the country, it is pretty clear that the Tory Party activists believe in low-tax and low regulation, they are pro-Brexit and anti-immigration – and in the leadership election they overwhelmingly supported Liz Truss over Sunak.

In parliament, you have a grouping that, to describe as a loose coalition, would be kind. You have ‘Red Wallers’, led by Lancashire MP Jake Berry, who need the government to tax-and-spend to ‘level up’ their constituencies.

You have the ERG, a collection of right-wing deep thinkers, and odd-bods, who have an unhealthy obsession with the European Union, the new ‘Elite’ (whatever that is – it does include Gary Lineker from what I can gather), and more recently, the Civil Service,

Then we have the dispossessed – a growing number of ex-cabinet ministers whose number seems to grow at an alarming rate, the most recent recruit Dominic Raab, who was forced to resign as Deputy Prime Minister last week, having been found guilty of bullying allegations.   

There is the reducing, yet still influential, number of ‘One Nation’ Tories, who would probably prefer Jeremy Corbyn to be Prime Minister than Suella Braverman, and find their party’s flirtation with breaking international law, the anti-migrant rhetoric, the cut to the international aid budget, and of course Brexit, absolutely abhorrent.      

There are the increasingly influential ‘Blue Wallers’ – MPs who represent more traditional Conservative seats, and who are more than happy to sacrifice their Red Wall colleagues if it means they have a further five-years on the green benches. So, no housebuilding, planning reform, big-spend infrastructure projects for them, thank you very much.   

There will be other groupings too, and although it would be fair to say that both Labour and Conservative governments have always been made up of a ‘broad-church’ of folk– I’m not sure any have been quite as diverse in their views and opinions as the current Tory Party.

It is also fair to say that Sunak has steadied the Conservative ship somewhat. His personal ratings are actually better than Keir Starmer’s. However, his party’s brand remains toxic. How toxic, we will find out in the local elections next Thursday.

If those results are bad, then the Prime Minister may find that holding together his wide-ranging collection of parliamentarians and activists for another year is a more challenging prospect than stopping the boats. A set of local election results have seldom been more eagerly awaited. Roll on Thursday…

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