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25 November 2022

The Tory rebellion over onshore wind is a weather vane for Rishi Sunak’s authority

The government’s large “working” majority has become dysfunctional.

By Freddie Hayward

If they didn’t have an easy time uniting the party, why should he? That seems to be the thinking of Liz Truss and Boris Johnson, with their support for a rebellion against Rishi Sunak’s plans to keep in place the current ban on onshore wind farms.

Truss’s ally Simon Clarke tabled an amendment to remove the ban on Wednesday 23 November – barely 24 hours after the government had to delay voting on the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill because of a separate rebellion over housing targets.

That Sunak supported the ban during his leadership campaign over the summer (in a contest that he lost) is not assuaging any of the rebels. For his predecessors – both of whom retain a large contingent of supporters within the party – to rebel so openly is a serious blow to Sunak’s precarious authority.

A picture is building of what the next two years will look like for Sunak. The government is going to struggle to get legislation through parliament. So much of what Sunak can do is dictated by the size of his depleted working majority in the Commons, which stands at 69. That means only 35 Conservative MPs need to rebel to defeat the government.

In less volatile times, a working majority of 69 would give the government ample room to pass legislation. But amid the chaos of the past nine months Tory MPs have become habitual rebels. The whipping system has been weakened. They’ve now had to vote for three competing, unfulfilled versions of Conservativism under three prime ministers.

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Even just on onshore wind, MPs have been asked to support the ban, then to oppose it, then to go back to supporting it again. And once MPs rebel, they’re more likely to do so again.

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This piece first appeared in the Morning Call newsletter; subscribe here.

[See also: On housing, the Tories need Labour’s help not to self-immolate]