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4 July 2023

The New Conservatives will damage Rishi Sunak

The Prime Minister’s own MPs are implicitly criticising his migration policy and distracting from his agenda.

By Freddie Hayward

The New Conservatives are nothing new. Another grouping of Tory MPs launched its inaugural report yesterday (3 July), into reducing net migration. One of its recommendations, for instance, was scrapping worker visa eligibility for care workers.

The new caucus of mostly 2019-intake MPs is largely an amalgam of the National Conservatives and the anti-woke Common Sense Group. It says it wants to reawaken the alignment brought about by Brexit and the 2019 general election that saw the Red Wall turn blue. You can file them under the communitarian, migration-sceptic form of politics that Michael Gove has flirted with since Boris Johnson’s defenestration. This politics has been bubbling around for a while. It simply has a new name.

But the group could still cause problems for the government. The MPs involved assiduously assert that they support Rishi Sunak. They may very well. But their launch points to a divergence within the Conservative Party over the direction it should take. That’s partly because Sunak has made no attempt – not a murmur, not a squeal, not a repetitive incantation to the TV cameras – to praise the 2019 manifesto. He abandoned that in favour of managerialism and hard lines on small boats crossing the Channel.

Hence the (mild) internal criticism at the New Conservatives’ launch. Miriam Cates MP said if immigration numbers weren’t drastically reduced to 2019 levels then the Conservatives would “kick the can down the road [and] lose the next election”. That sounds as if Cates is saying the government’s current plans will result in electoral failure. I agree, but she’s a Tory MP. A lowly position in the polls can disunite a party and fuel criticism of its leader.

Sunak is finding it increasingly hard to get his message across. His NHS workforce plan last week was not taken seriously because he lacks credibility. Few believe he has the money, political capital or time to implement serious public-service reform or any real change. Now his own MPs are implicitly criticising his migration policy and distracting from his agenda.

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[See also: Why Rishi Sunak needs to sack Suella Braverman]

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