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Why Conservatives are furious with Rishi Sunak

As MPs rage at the snap election announcement, it’s hard to imagine a less united party.

By Rachel Cunliffe

Bafflement. That is the mood among many Conservative MPs and campaigners at the news Rishi Sunak has called an election for 4 July.

To say Westminster did not see this coming was an understatement – and not just because the day began with a warning from the Deputy Prime Minister that Brits should start stockpiling food (hardly a strong message with which to kick off a campaign). Up until this morning, No 10 had sent very strong signals that an election would not be called until the autumn. While Labour’s campaign team has hammered home the message that the party needed to be ready for an election at any time, Tory MPs were repeatedly told that the PM would “stick to the plan” and wait until the economic situation improved in August.

Now all that has changed – and there is widespread fury. Fury from MPs who are standing down or look likely to lose their seats, who thought they had months left to make a difference in their constituencies or to their pet causes. Fury from candidates whose campaigns are far from ready. Fury from local associations who haven’t even selected their candidates yet. Fury from special advisers and activists at holidays they had been assured could be booked suddenly having to be cancelled. Fury from parliamentary aides – often young and poorly paid – who face being out of a job in a matter of weeks with no warning. One texted to tell me the decision was “cruel”; another described it as “heartbreaking”. Purely on a logistics front, the announcement has been handled in the worst possible way.

Nor is there any understanding of why Sunak chose to make the snap decision today. When I asked Tory MPs and advisers why they thought the PM had had such a sudden change of heart, I got a range of responses: “It’s a terrible idea”, “I don’t get it”, “really odd”, “don’t even start”, “he’s given up” and “we deserve to lose”. One called the day’s proceedings “a shitshow”. This, from people who should be on Sunak’s side, and whose support he will need over the next six weeks.

There are even grumblings of febrile (an overused but now very apt word) MPs so upset by the move that they are submitting letters of no confidence in Rishi Sunak. It is not clear whether this is a renewed effort to topple him as leader, and even if it were, the 1922 Committee chair Graham Brady would surely intervene to prevent such a shock move. More likely, given the election has now been announced, they just want to indicate their anger and remind Sunak that he cannot take them for granted. It’s hard to imagine a less united party heading into a six-week election campaign.

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Even the choice of location for the announcement – outside No 10 in the pouring rain, with the New Labour anthem “Things Can Only Get Better” blasting from a protester’s loud speakers – has become a source of anger and humiliation. The fact that, within this parliament, £2.6m was spent on refurbishing a glitzy press room just next door at 9 Downing Street has not gone unnoticed.

“Indoors, dry, no music,” a confused comms adviser pointed out. “There are so many things you can’t predict, but ‘rain makes you wet’ really isn’t one.”

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