Tories scout for post-election jobs as UK parties dial up campaign mode

Although Prime Minister Rishi Sunak insists the result of the general election is “not a foregone conclusion”, some of his ministers and MPs are making other plans, checking out mentally and using what they expect to be a long pre-election phoney war to prepare for a life after politics.

Yet in Labour circles there are growing concerns that the party is not using the time wisely by making detailed plans for office, that people have not psychologically checked-in to the fact they could soon be running the country after almost 15 years in the wilderness.

“There are some people in the shadow ministerial team and MPs who haven’t made the mental leap to the fact we could soon be in power,” said one Labour frontbencher.

In this surreal pre-election period rumours swirl, the latest unlikely one being that Sunak could bring the uncertainty to an end and call a snap election next Wednesday, when new data is expected by some economists to show inflation falling below the Bank of England’s 2 per cent target.

Such rumours are a permanent feature of Westminster life and have persistently proved to be wrong, although Sunak’s allies confirm that the prime minister is looking for a suitable political “moment” to call the national poll.

It would be a bold move for a prime minister whose party has been consistently trailing Labour in the polls by 20 points. Indeed the FT’s poll tracker now puts the Conservatives on just 22.8 per cent, lower even than during Liz Truss’s brief premiership.

The latest election speculation was triggered on Monday, sparked by a meeting held by Conservative party bosses to calculate how much money campaign rules would allow them to spend between now and a potential summer election, according to one insider.

Under campaign spending rules, the year preceding a general election is considered a regulated spending period. The instruction was also given to Tory fundraising chiefs to put out feelers among major donors about raising significant sums in coming weeks if needed, the insider added.

Details of the meeting have not been reported before.

A party official dismissed the significance of the conversations, insisting that board meetings — at which various election scenarios are considered — take place six times a year, and that fundraising efforts in an election year are not unusual.

The party also sent an email to candidates on Friday about leaflet templates, urging orders to be made by mid-June rather than immediately. “That’s not what you’d do if you were going to call a snap election imminently,” said one Tory MP.

Ultimately only Sunak and a handful of allies will decide the date of polling day. Senior Tories insist this week’s electioneering was part of an attritional campaign intended to last many months, during which Labour’s policies on issues such as defence and tax are put under heavy scrutiny.

Hunt, in his speech on Friday, talked about further national insurance cuts in an Autumn Statement, as part of what he and Sunak hope will be a cumulation of good economic news. “We have delivered the soft landing many thought impossible,” Hunt said.

By the summer the prime minister also hopes that deportation flights of asylum seekers to Rwanda will show his migration policy in action.

In the meantime, Tory ministers and MPs are preparing for the worst, touting themselves around the City in search of future employment. 

A senior partner at one “magic circle” law firm said he had recently received a meeting request from a minister but that “after about five minutes” it became clear that the minister was just looking for a job, which he said made the rest of the discussion “tedious”. 

Meanwhile a tech firm boss said: “I met a minister the other day who was all over us, saying how much he liked the company, could he buy shares?” 

A leading PR executive said: “There is a headlong rush of current and former ministers who have not taken a call for years who suddenly want to have lunch.”

While Conservatives are unsettled by the prospect of losing power, some in Labour seem troubled by the prospect of acquiring it, even avoiding making detailed policy plans lest — in the words of one shadow minister — they are seen to be “measuring the curtains” for Downing Street.

One senior Labour figure said that there was a marked variation in how prepared different teams are for government and how much work is going beyond Sir Keir Starmer’s newly minted “six first steps” pledge card. 

“I would say there are some teams that are very far advanced in their preparations, and some teams that think they are entirely ready, and they are not one and the same,” he said, adding that shadow energy minister Ed Miliband was one of the most advanced.

“There are teams like Ed Miliband, he’s been in government, he has a very clear agenda and priorities, he is talking to very serious people about implementation,” the person said. “And then there are others where you feel they are further behind, some are very far off.”

Sue Gray, Starmer’s chief of staff, has been overseeing a process led by her deputy Helene Reardon Bond to ensure that different teams have set out their priorities and agendas. 

“It has caused a bit of frustration because some people think it’s a box-ticking exercise which is wasting their time,” one Labour official said.

The Labour figure said that before Gray’s arrival as chief of staff Labour’s focus had been 1 per cent on government and 99 per cent on winning election.

“The preparing for government stuff has now gone up to maybe 3 or 4 per cent but I would have thought it would be much higher by now,” they added.

A Labour spokesman denied that the party was not seriously preparing to govern and said that Gray was working effectively to tackle cross-cutting issues. But he added: “Is the priority making sure we win the election in the first place? For sure.”

Video: Sketchy Politics: Sunak’s sinking feeling

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