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Good morning Are you dropping me? I’m breaking up with you! That is the gist of Suella Braverman’s open letter to Rishi Sunak, in which she accuses the prime minister of breaking promises he made to her and warns that his strategy is leading the Conservative party to electoral defeat. What does that mean?
As for Sunak’s leadership, not so much. Braverman’s letter contains many enjoyably brutal lines about his style of government and the shortcomings of his political approach. However, she ultimately fails to call for a change at the top as there is currently no plausible way to unseat Sunak and she has no plausible argument for how she would turn the party’s fortunes around before an election.
However, when it comes to the balance of power on the Tory right, the letter has changed significantly. Below are a few more thoughts on this.
Inside Politics is edited by Georgina Quach. Read the previous edition of the newsletter here. Please send gossip, thoughts and feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
I’m changing the deal. Pray I don’t change it any further
Rishi Sunak is Prime Minister because he is the preferred candidate of the left and center of the party. Combined with the government pay vote, this means he has the almost guaranteed support of two-thirds of the parliamentary party. The right flank and the disgruntled MPs who have lost primacy under Sunak have enough numbers to force a vote of no confidence in Sunak’s leadership, but they do not have a large enough support base to force a leadership change.
Frankly, all that has changed is the fact that the left of the party – which a week ago was essentially saying things in private like “It’s terrible, Rishi isn’t one of us, but after him comes the flood” – has changed a bit now feels more excited about things. David Cameron is back, Laura Trott and Vicky Atkins are sitting at the cabinet table. A number of moderates are holding junior minister positions for the first time.
This feel-good factor may not last long. Even if it dissipates, what matters when it comes to Sunak’s leadership is that the right can always get on his nerves, but angry votes don’t count twice. Suella Braverman’s allegations against him will not significantly change the balance of power within the parliamentary party.
To the extent that Braverman’s letter What matters is how it shapes the perception of the former interior minister. She claimed Sunak made a series of promises to her to secure her support in last autumn’s leadership campaign, but he failed to keep them. Here is the woman herself:
1. Reduce overall legal migration, as set out in the 2019 manifesto, including through reforming the international student pathway and increasing salary thresholds for work visas;
2. Inclusion of specific “notwithstanding clauses” in the new legislation to stop the boats, i.e. excluding the application of the European Convention on Human Rights, the Human Rights Act and other international laws that have hitherto hindered progress on this issue;
3. Provision of the Northern Ireland Protocol and retained EU draft legislation in their then existing form and on a timetable;
4. Provide clear legal guidance for schools that protects biological sex, maintains same-sex spaces, and empowers parents to know what their children are being taught.
There is an obvious problem here: three out of four of these promises have clearly been defunct for some time. Revealing these broken promises only after she is fired will only reinforce the argument of some of Braverman’s critics on the right side of the party that while they agree with her goals, in practice she is all mouth and no pants.
The politician making this argument most forcefully and openly is Priti Patel, Braverman’s predecessor as home secretary and, in my view, the biggest threat to Braverman’s hopes of emerging as the standard-bearer of the right in the next leadership election.
The former home secretary’s letter changed Tory politics altogether, dashing her own hopes of uniting the entire right-wing of the Conservative Party and increasing concerns even among MPs who broadly agree politically that she was not me I’m not up to the job. The politician whose position has changed the most is not Sunak, but Patel. Her chances of emerging as a candidate who can unite both Sunak’s implacable critics and some from within the party’s center have increased significantly as a result of Braverman’s letter.
Try it now
I don’t like the new Paramount Plus miniseries The curse at all. There’s the guts of a decent 90- to 120-minute film somewhere, but it’s stretched far beyond its limits in a padded and oppressively unsubtle series. Regard Funny pages instead. But I enjoyed talking about it on the FT’s revamped Life and Art podcast alongside Lilah Raptopoulos and Rebecca Watson.
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