Tories lose 1,000 years of expertise in days as MPs flee Sunak’s sinking ship

The Conservative party lost more than a thousand years’ worth of parliamentary experience in a matter of days as dozens of MPs fled Rishi Sunak ’s “sinking ship.”

In a mass exodus not seen since Tony Blair ’s 1997 cull of high-profile Tories, big beasts including Theresa May, Michael Gove, Andrea Leadsom and John Redwood spent their last moments in Parliament. Research by the MHP Group found the average length of service for the 78 Tory MP stepping down at the General Election is 15 years.

Some are leaving to do other things. Some are retiring. But many want pre-empt a “Portillo moment” on July 4th – losing the seats they’ve represented for years.

The mood among Tory backbenchers after Mr Sunak’s unexpected announcement – in the pouring rain, soundtracked by protesters blasting Labour anthem “Things Can Only Get Better” – was understandably bleak. Parliament’s bars and tea rooms bustled with miserable Tories on Wednesday evening. One was seen in tears on the House of Commons terrace, convinced they would soon be out of a job.

Rishi Sunak, damp

Things can only get wetter, and they did
Getty Images)

Few of them expected an Autumn election to be easy – but none we spoke to thought a July poll would be anything but a disaster for their party. “I think I’ll be alright in my seat,” one backbencher told the Mirror. “But it’s hard to believe some of the people who aren’t going to be MPs any more after Friday.”

Meanwhile, Rishi Sunak hosted an opening rally in a dark, pokey room in the upper floors of the cavernous Excel Centre in East London – the bigger spaces already occupied by a Disney exhibition, a cryptocurrency conference and preparations for this year’s Comic-Con. “Why he didn’t use that room to call the election, rather than getting drenched in the street, I will never know,” another MP said.

In the days that followed, similarly questionable judgement on the PM’s choice of campaign stops led senior Tories to openly question whether Labour had a spy in Conservative HQ.

Rishi Sunak, failing to organise a p*** up in a brewery

“A brewery visit with a teetotal PM, so no chance of a piss up. Now a site visit to something famous for sinking,” former Scottish Tory leader Baroness Ruth Davidson Tweeted as Mr Sunak visited Northern Ireland’s Titanic Quarter – where the supposedly unsinkable ocean liner was constructed. She added: “Is there a double agent in CCHQ, and were they a headline writer in a previous life? Our candidates deserve better.”

Mr Sunak soldiered on, seeking to draw dividing lines between him and Keir Starmer – but even his message to voters seemed confused. Labour has “no plan” for the country, he insisted on Wednesday. But on Friday he seemed to accept his opponents did have a plan, and it would cost the nation £38.5 billion.

Mr Starmer, meanwhile, continued Labour’s “ming vase” strategy – treading incredibly carefully so as not to break his party’s 20-point poll lead. Launching the campaign on Wednesday evening, Mr Starmer unveiled Labour’s one-word slogan: “Change”.

Local Peter Foster (R) ‘photobombs’ Angela Rayner, Vaughan Gething, Shadow Welsh Secretary Jo Stevens and Bangor Aberconwy candidate Claire Hughes
Rowan Griffiths / Daily Mirror)

The simple message is expected to be slapped in big letters on the side of the party’s battle-bus – which will soon be trundling up and down the country with Deputy Leader Angela Rayner in tow. Friday saw Mr Starmer head to Scotland, launching the party’s bid to wrest dozens of seats back from the SNP – nearly ten years after the dramatic influx of nationalist MPs to the Commons.

“We can’t just send a message at this election,” he told supporters in Glasgow. “We must send a government.”

Ms Rayner, meanwhile was on Llandudno’s majestic coast, launching Labour’s campaign in Wales. Peter Walker, a local who briefly ‘photo-bombed’ Ms Rayner and Welsh first minister Vaughan Gething as they posed on a promenade bench, told this newspaper: “I know who she is – it’s good to see them come round here.”

Peter Walker was waiting for his bike to be repaired, and had no idea Angela Rayner was about to sit on the bench next to him
Rowan Griffiths / Daily Mirror)

Leaning closer, he whispered: “She’s quite a looker, isn’t she?” A few hours later, back in Westminster, any hopes that Rishi Sunak’s unlucky streak was due to end were dashed.

With one last theatrical flourish, Michael Gove surprised MPs giving their goodbye speeches with the news he was throwing in the towel after nearly 20 years. With no sign of polls narrowing, Mr Sunak faces an uphill battle to prevent a complete wipe-out of his party.

Nigel Farage made that hill a little steeper on Thursday by announcing he wouldn’t stand as an MP – but would be campaigning hard for Reform UK. For already fearful Tories, that was the worst possible outcome.

“At least standing as an MP would keep him in one place,” one said. “Now he’ll be all over the place.”