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19 June 2024

Tories are canvassing strenuously – for the Conservative leadership election

Your weekly dose of gossip from the campaign trail.

By Kevin Maguire

The contest in full swing for the Tory party is the leadership battle that will follow its almost inevitable defeat in the general election. Word from CCHQ is that campaign chief Isaac Levido is unable to control likely contenders, including Security Minister Tom Tugendhat. His Tonbridge seat in Kent is one of several expected to survive Starmergeddon. Tory tongues wagged after former military man Tommy Tugboat chugged up to Hinckley and Bosworth, where GP Luke Evans is fretting over his notional 2019 majority of 24,506. Every MP a saviour helps redeem is a potential supporter.

Labour election guru Morgan McSweeney is a hard taskmaster. Starmer’s hit man devours details, centrally studying local canvass returns to gauge which seats might be won, rather than relying solely on polling. Candidates in Labour strongholds are instructed to direct activists to fresh targets. A northern veteran calls it throwing Tories into McSweeney’s meat grinder.

Every crisis is an opportunity and Conservative peers are scenting openings. My snout reports the Tories wouldn’t be able to field a full front bench if Survation’s projection of only 72 MPs became a reality. After crashing to eight in the Commons in 2015, the Lib Dems had to rely on their ermined champions. Tory has-beens could ride again.

The first rebellion awaiting a Starmer government will be the great revolt of octogenarians. While the elected are away fighting for votes, the unelected are organising against Labour’s manifesto commitment to retire peers at 80. Some 154 of 785 Lords and Ladies would be culled, including Alf Dubs (91), Joan Bakewell (91) and Neil Kinnock (82). My snout muttered that Starmer granting Plaid Cymru’s ennobled Carmen Smith (28) and Tories Charlotte Owen (31) and Ross Kempsell (32) another half-century while axing Labour’s revered Mount Rushmore figures would unleash fury. There is dark talk of ageism challenges under the Equality and Human Rights acts.

A tough working-class lass is Angela Rayner, who has been given a ticket to ride 5,000 miles on a red battlebus. Old hands recalled the putative deputy prime minister once kicking off a sandal to tweezer shards of glass from a bare foot before a Labour conference dinner in Liverpool. She’ll outlast the Liz Truss lookalike lettuce in the fridge on Angebus One.

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Up in Blyth and Ashington, the former coal miner Ian Lavery, a Labour chair in the Jeremy Corbyn era, disclosed that candidates obsessively check the forecasting website Electoral Calculus to monitor their prospects. It puts his chances of winning at 99 per cent. The 1 per cent is a catflap get-out should the polls be wrong.

[See also: He shall slight them on the beaches… Sunak’s faux pas is a free pass for Cameron]

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This article appears in the 19 Jun 2024 issue of the New Statesman, How to Fix a Nation