‘If we lose the next general election - our downfall will be from within,’ writes Tobias Ellwood

Rishi Sunak

‘If we lose the next general election - our downfall will be from within,’ writes Tobias Ellwood

Tobias Ellwood MP

By Tobias Ellwood MP

Published: 03/04/2024

- 21:32

The formula for electoral success in Britain is not rocket science, writes Ellwood

Months away from the general election and we have an increasingly good story to tell.

Yet still, the drag anchor on the right looks at our poll ratings and seeks political mischief – seemingly oblivious to the fact that tribal feuding, disloyalty and post-election speculation are playing a significant part in ensuring that the polling gap with Labour fails to close.

Hardly a week goes by without another ‘senior source’ disgruntled comment, potential plot or tribal dissatisfaction hitting the headlines. The masterminds fuelling this drumbeat of defeatist distraction should strategize the true impact they are having on the immediate prospects for fellow Tory Parliamentarians, prospective candidates and the very fate of the Party itself.

Knocking on voter’s doors in Bournemouth the feedback on our policies is nothing like the polling suggests. Colleagues confirm there’s a similar picture across the country. And a growing appreciation that after the generational hits of Covid and the war in Ukraine, our economy is moving into calmer waters. Inflation is heading towards 2 per cent (from 11 per cent), borrowing is back under control and UK business confidence returning.

But turn to politics and, whilst we’ve indeed entered a less turbulent period in Westminster, there remains a deep frustration with the Party – the infighting, the ill-discipline, the disloyalty so close to an election.

The irony here is what is not happening. There is no migration of support to Labour, thrilled by the clarity of their message or the attraction of their vision for Britain. What they stand for remains largely a mystery. Why? Because they avoid public scrutiny thanks to our own negative headlines dominating the airwaves. This explains why the percentage of ‘don’t-knows’ in successive opinion polls is uncharacteristically high right now.

Simply put, if we lose the next general election, it won’t be our policies or the Truss era to blame. Our downfall will be from within.

The formula for electoral success in Britain is not rocket science. A party exhibiting competence, discipline, unity and leadership appeals to the electorate. Offer economic responsibility, an aspirational vision and honesty in how we handle the longer-term challenges, and we don’t just retain seats, but we win elections.

Rishi Sunak

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak during a visit to Aldersyde Day Nursery in Hartlepool, North East of England as the first parents in England start to benefit from 15 hours of taxpayer-funded care for two-year-olds


A Party exhibiting tribal division, infighting and an absence of focus will not secure enough support and is destined for Opposition. And any Party lurching to their extreme, appealing little beyond their base, will not secure the vital centre ground of the electorate that for decades has determined which Party secures the keys to No10.

If we vacate that centre-right ground of British politics the vacuum is quickly filled by our competitors. And Liam Fox was right to remind colleagues at a recent Party meeting that any bad day in Government is worse than any good day in Opposition.

This is worth reflecting upon. Because those plotting to promote their favoured successor (having already written off our prospects at the election) seem to ignore how the political landscape in Britain is changing, voting patterns are shifting and new political allegiances within younger generations are re-drawing voters’ party loyalties.

Extrapolate this further and a shift to the right could see our Party split into light and dark blue with the latter embracing populism. This will kill the Party as we know it. The dawning realisation is that this is, perhaps, what the plotters want.

Populism is a good starter but a bad finisher. It’s a quick fix: the opposite of good governance and good Conservatism. And it ends badly because populism has no logical limit - who would ever have thought that breaking international law would be on any Tory's agenda?

Our Party’s long electoral success comes from dominating the centre-right ground of the political spectrum. Look back at our Party’s history. Those leaders who put the nation’s interests first and governed from the centre-right did so with distinction - and success. Disraeli, Baldwin, Churchill, Macmillan and yes Thatcher too. Pander only to your base – and as with Andrew Bonar Law – you are quickly forgotten.

Rishi Sunak understands this. A glance at his Cabinet reflects a broad church from Lord Cameron to Michael Gove. He retains overall support from the majority in all wings of the Party. But as we see so regularly in the Press – it only takes commentary from two anonymous MPs to rekindle plots promoting a future leadership contender. This happens so frequently now we’ve become de-sensitised to the formation of new tribal groups under the wider Tory banner. But, as William Hague wisely counsels – you don’t become leader of our great party by having a group touting you for leader. That said, if we are to be a broad church of a Party, (in order to broaden our appeal beyond our base) then we must tolerate and appreciate a spectrum of views within the parameters of Conservative thinking. But six months before an election, loyalty to a single tribe must not overshadow support for the Party itself.

As statecraft finally returns to No10, both domestically and internationally, along with fiscal responsibility, we all understand this is not enough to win. The nation demands unity if we are to earn their support.

Our great Party has been a dominant force in British politics for almost two centuries. This is not a given. Those plotting to airbrush the light blue out of the Party should reflect on this. Without a united party, there is no power. But disunity and a slide to the right will see us powerless for years to come.

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