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Good morning. Rishi Sunak is the prisoner of his party’s internal divides. That’s true, and I’ve written some variant on that before and will write one again. But it isn’t the only part of the story. Some thoughts on the other half in today’s note.
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When four tribes go to war
One of Rishi Sunak’s recurring problems is that his parliamentary party is increasingly fractious and that makes it harder for him to get his way. Seb Payne has produced a handy typology of what he dubs the “four tribes” creating obstacles in the prime minister’s path.
Those tribes are: moderate Conservatives in the south who are opposing Sunak’s planning reforms, pro-growth “Trussites” who are attempting to force him to unpick the UK ban on onshore wind, loyal supporters of Boris Johnson who are out to get him, and MPs who are standing down at the next election and therefore feel free to vote however they please.
It’s going to be a repeated refrain of Sunak’s premiership, however long it ends up being, that one of his big problems is his ungovernable party. MPs are placing hard limitations on what he can and can’t do. The government’s Levelling-up and Regeneration bill was due to have its second report stage on Monday, but that plan fell through after 47 Tory MPs led by Theresa Villiers backed an amendment to water down housebuilding targets.
Such divisions among the Conservatives suit Sunak’s defenders in the press because it’s a good explanation for when he falls short or has to U-turn. It suits Keir Starmer because the Labour leader wants to paint Sunak as weak and unable to win internal battles.
But it’s worth remembering that the major threats Sunak faces from his MPs at the moment are that he may end up being forced to end the ban on onshore wind and to pass planning reform with the support of the Labour party.
Compared with the difficulties that Conservative MPs posed to, say, Theresa May, these are not particularly bad problems to have! Yes, Tory MPs are also the reason why Sunak cannot remove regulatory barriers with the EU, are why he is having to press on at speed with repealing retained EU law, and why he is committed to a series of promises on migration that it is far from clear he can keep.
But none of these positions are particularly uncomfortable for Sunak himself to hold. Yes, these are things that upset Conservative moderates, who are in many ways Sunak’s most devoted supporters. But the reason why the party’s left flank has thrown its lot in with the prime minister — despite him being on the party’s right — is that it believes (in my view, rightly) that whoever comes after him will be more rightwing still.
And as ConservativeHome’s survey of its panel of Tory members makes clear, the party grassroots doesn’t care for this government’s senior figures. Ben Wallace, from the party’s left, remains in top spot in the Cabinet league table, but that reflects his record at Defence. Out-and-out centrists such as Jeremy Hunt or Andrew Mitchell have dire ratings.
While Sunak’s instincts place him in natural sympathy with many on the Conservative party’s right flank, he is also able to command loyalty on the party’s left. This makes him the ideal Tory leader at this moment in time. Far from being the prisoner of his party’s internal wars, he is in a sense their biggest single beneficiary.
My column this week explores the ethics of war games, sparked by a new exhibition and panel discussion on the subject at the International War Museum.
Now try this
I’m grateful to Inside Politics reader Ben for suggesting that I listen to The Bad Plus, an excellent jazz trio (and later quartet). I recommend starting as I did with their first full-length album, These are the Vistas, and going from there.
Top stories today
NHS staff walk out | Ambulance workers across England are likely to strike before Christmas, Unison said. Meanwhile, the Royal College of Nursing, which has won a mandate for strikes at more than half of hospital trusts in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, set out details yesterday of the locations that would be involved in its first two days of action in December.
Reform to ‘ringfencing’ of banks | Britain is poised to relax one of the biggest restrictions on the banking sector as part of “Big Bang 2.0”, the long promised liberalisation of post-Brexit financial services rules.
‘Hotel tax’ | English cities are moving towards introducing voluntary tourism taxes as the hotel industry seeks to boost visitor numbers and plug holes in state funding, with the first levy set to be raised in the new year by Liverpool.
Local government in budget ‘crisis’ | The Tory-led Thurrock council admitted a series of failed investments had left a hole in its budget of almost £500mn — the biggest ever reported by a UK local authority, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism writes. Millions of pounds of assets could be sold, including potentially 10,000 council homes as it attempts to stay afloat.
‘Accents and parentage’ dictating City careers | The body that oversees London’s Square Mile has told banks and other financial and professional services companies that at least half of their senior leaders should come from a working class or lower socio-economic background by 2030. The City of London corporation found workers from “non-professional backgrounds” progressed through companies slower than their more affluent peers.
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