Ping! A very interesting WhatsApp arrives, setting out how Tory MPs might get rid of Rishi Sunak. The message says that “the only possible game changer” is for a switch to “a Gingrich-style ‘100 Day Contract with Britain’,” followed by an immediate general election.
Conservative MPs clearly think they can draw inspiration from the ‘Contract with America’, unveiled six weeks before the 1994 Congressional elections by Republican Congressman Newt Gingrich, setting out a series of policies if the Republicans became the majority party in the House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years. It led the party to winning majorities in both the House and the Senate.
In this scenario, so the plan goes, Penny Mordaunt, the Leader of the House of Commons, would be installed as Prime Minister with a commitment to an election after just 100 days. There is no suggestion that Mordaunt has any idea of this ‘contract with Britain’ plan, and the chances of this happening are remote (giving the Tories a fourth leader in just four years).
But it is an indication of the desperation some Conservatives feel at the inability of Sunak to lift the party’s standing in the polls.
Behind closed doors, some Tory MPs are considering ditching Sunak
Despite concerns about some of her stances on so-called ‘woke’ issues, Mordaunt is seen as best placed as the Tory who ran both Truss and then Sunak close in 2022, the last time the Conservative leadership was up for grabs. Labour also fear Mordaunt more than Sunak, one shadow Cabinet minister told me this week.
This is why it is dangerous to side completely with the widespread scoffing at Sir Simon Clarke from Conservative grandees after the former Cabinet minister called for Rishi Sunak to quit this week.
Certainly, his timing was off – why was Clarke’s article in the Telegraph was published on Tuesday, when the drama of 60 Tory MPs backing amendments to last week’s Rwanda Bill had long since faded?
Surely a better time to have caused damage to Sunak would have been after the double by-elections on Feb 15, if – as seems possible – the Tories lose in both Kingswood and Wellingborough. That would also be after the launch of the new Popular Conservativism campaign, where Clarke was due to speak alongside former Cabinet colleagues Liz Truss, Ranil Jayawardena and Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg, setting out a tax-cutting vision to restore the party’s fortunes in the polls.
Indeed – as I pointed out on social media – the tone of the letter (describing this month as “January”) suggested to me that Clarke had intended to publish the letter next month. And some Conservative MPs tell me that a more likely trigger for others to call for Sunak to go could come if Reform UK continues to climb in the polls.
Reform UK leader Richard Tice told me on GB News last week that he is expecting Reform’s polling to climb to 13 points, just seven behind the Tories. Imagine if Nigel Farage decides to throw his lot in again with Reform UK, Conservative MPs say they expect as much as a six-point bump in the polls for Reform UK.
Farage was speculating about whether he might return to the political frontline again last night on Patrick Christys’ GB News show. Imagine if Reform UK climbs above the Tories, perhaps after a disastrous showing in the May local elections? That could be the catalyst for more Tory MPs to break cover and call for Sunak to go.
This is what makes my WhatsApp message so interesting. Don’t be fooled by everyone dismissing Clarke’s intervention in the Telegraph.
Behind closed doors, some Tory MPs are considering ditching Sunak, and for them it could be that a new “Contract with Britain” is one way for them to take the fight to Labour.