Tory right despondent on Rishi Sunak’s manifesto


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Rishi Sunak admitted on Tuesday that people were “frustrated” with his leadership; the launch of his 76-page Conservative manifesto marked one of his last big chances to get his critics to change their minds.

But some of the frustration comes from within his own party, which has looked on aghast at the Tory leader’s accident-prone campaign since he surprised the country by calling the snap election on July 4.

Within hours of the manifesto launch, the scale of Sunak’s challenge was laid bare by a new YouGov poll that put the Conservatives on 18 points, one point above Nigel Farage’s Reform UK and 20 points behind Labour.

“I’m not blind to the fact that people are frustrated with our party and frustrated with me,” Sunak said at the Silverstone motor racing circuit. “Things have not always been easy. And we have not got everything right.”

But, he insisted: “We are the only party in this election with the big ideas to make our country a better place to live.”

Sunak believes that big ideas and the “red meat” policies demanded by his party are what he has offered: a substantial £17bn package of tax cuts, targeted especially at “white van” traders, first-time homebuyers and pensioners, supposedly largely funded by welfare cuts.

To his critics on the Tory right, the party’s 2024 manifesto was too timid and unlikely to shift the dial.

One former Tory cabinet minister said: “What we’ve got is wishy washy [chancellor] Jeremy Hunt stuff that we’ve had to put up with for the past two years. We’re fed up with it. I wouldn’t be surprised if colleagues decided to jack it in and join Reform.”

Conservatives on the party’s right flank expressed disappointment that the manifesto did not go further with a vow to reform or leave the European Convention on Human Rights, which is blamed by some Tories for making it harder to deport migrants who arrive in the country by clandestine means.

Senior cabinet ministers from the party’s mainstream wing, including Hunt and outgoing housing minister Michael Gove, were wary of any such commitment, fearing it would further alienate liberal Tory voters.

The manifesto issued Sunak’s familiar holding statement: “If we are forced to choose between our security and the jurisdiction of a foreign court, including the ECHR, we will always choose our security.”

The Tory manifesto also promised “a relentless, continual process of permanently removing illegal migrants to Rwanda with a regular rhythm of flights every month, starting this July, until the boats are stopped”.

Conservative officials struggled to explain what would happen to tens of thousands of migrants expected to arrive by irregular means in Britain before the end of 2024 who under a new law have no right to have their asylum claims assessed.

“The scheme is uncapped,” said one Tory official, referring to the Rwanda scheme, suggesting that a large number of asylum seekers would be sent to the African nation. Migration experts have said many would simply be stuck in a legal limbo in the UK.

Farage has exploited the fact that Sunak failed to put his Rwanda scheme into operation before calling the election. He argues that Labour, which has vowed to scrap the scheme, is certain to win and that the important question is who emerges as the “real opposition” to Sir Keir Starmer.

Labour claimed the Tory manifesto contained unfunded promises. Wes Streeting, shadow health secretary, said it amounted to “the most expensive panic attack in history”.

Rachel Reeves, shadow chancellor, claimed the Tory manifesto would have to be funded by borrowing, which in turn would feed through to higher interest rates and increased mortgage payments for the average household by £4,800 over the next parliament.

But the Tories said Reeves was “confusing facts and fiction” in a “chaotic and panicked dossier”.

Tory rightwingers had urged Sunak to fill his manifesto with dramatic social policies, such as an outright ban on mobile phones and social media for children.

Some influential Tory figures on the right of the party still rallied round Sunak. Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg, former business secretary, said: “The manifesto has my support.”

But another senior Tory rightwinger was despondent: “He didn’t listen to us, didn’t put in anything we pitched. We’re as much as 25 points behind in the polls — we’ve got nothing to lose and yet we’ve gambled nothing.”

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