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31 July 2023

The battle to shape a post-Sunak Tory party has begun

The selection of Rupert Harrison and Nick Timothy as Conservative candidates is a preview of the ideological contests to come.

By Freddie Hayward

This summer could be the most inconsequential for five years. In 2019 Boris Johnson entered No 10; the pandemic raged in 2020; 12 months later came the chaotic British and American withdrawal from Afghanistan. The following year, Tory MPs got rid of Johnson then took part in a giddy, tax-cutting arms race between Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss. Each event jolted Fleet Street out of writing about the scorching heat; each redefined politics.

This summer promises less. As Anoosh and I discussed on the podcast last week, both parties seem content to “rethink” their environmental policy after almost 1,000 people in Uxbridge and South Ruislip voted for the Greens and not Labour. But the big moment for the Conservatives will come at their (expected) relaunch in the autumn. Rishi Sunak will hope that his biggest problem – the cost-of-living crisis stripping his credibility – will have subsided by then.

[See also: Does Rishi Sunak have any shame?]

Sunak’s weakness fuels speculation about what will follow him. The Tories who win their seats at the next election will determine the party’s future politics. That’s why who is selected for Tory safe seats (the few that remain) is so important. While many Tories are jumping ship, others see an opportunity to shape the party.

Take these two. Nick Timothy, Theresa May’s former chief of staff, has been selected as the Conservative candidate for Matt Hancock’s West Suffolk seat. The Telegraph columnist believes in lowering migration, promoting community and reducing crime. Last month in Oxfordshire, Rupert Harrison, George Osborne’s Etonian former chief of staff, was selected as the parliamentary candidate for Bicester and Woodstock. He described himself as a “liberal conservative” at his selection hearing.

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Timothy and Harrison represent different strands of the Conservative Party. If the polls don’t improve for the Prime Minister, this summer might be remembered as the start of the contest for the soul of the post-Sunak Tory party.

This piece first appeared in the Morning Call newsletter; subscribe to it on Substack here.

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[See also: Polling is ruining politics]

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