British Tory woes return as Rishi Sunak grapples with policy and staffing – Times of India


LONDON: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak took a blow to his authority as he struggled to quell Conservative rebellions on multiple policy fronts, and his dejected MPs threatened an exodus from Westminster ahead of the next election.
Just four weeks after entering No. 10 Downing Street The Sunak government promises “stability and unity” but threatens to falter both its policy program and its ability to retain key Tory personnel amid bleak British economic prospects, dismal opinion polls and a series of ministerial scandals.
On Tuesday night, Sunak was forced to vote on major housing plans scheduled for next week after some 47 Tory backbenchers signed an amendment that threatened to defeat the government.
Planning and housing construction have long been a point of friction in the party, with rebel MPs worried about a backlash from local communities in their traditionally leafy rural areas.
Sunak’s decision to walk away from the vote rather than take on the rebels – despite housing construction being a major Conservative manifesto – suggests that Downing Street is unable to pass key elements of its policy agenda, even not with a working majority of 67.
Tory MP Theresa Villiers, a leading rebel, told Bloomberg the climb down was a “significant victory” for mainstream Tories.
Salma Shah, a former Tory special adviser, warned: “Reform planning is a perpetual problem for the Conservative Party, as Rishi Sunak has discovered. He must have a housing offer for young people to win the next election, but with mutinous MPs worried about their own seats it will be practically impossible to find a compromise.”
Housing construction is the government’s second major policy blowout this week. Conservative Brexiteers threatened another mutiny when the Sunday Times reported that Sunak was considering a closer so-called “Swiss-style” trade deal with the European Union.
Sunak denied the reports, but senior government figures confirmed Treasury Secretary Jeremy Hunt had spoken in private about his hopes for closer ties with Brussels. Sunak’s rejection of that approach was seen as a blow from his chancellor, the first sign of tensions at the top of the government. The reopening of the Brexit a conversation is life-threatening for a party that has been plagued by divisions across Europe for decades.
‘Punish voters’
Sunak and Hunt are also under fire from the Tory during last week’s autumn statement, with some MPs dissatisfied with looming tax hikes. Writing on the ConservativeHome website on Tuesday, former cabinet minister Esther McVey said the government’s economic plans are “punishing voters,” suggesting she could vote against them.
Sunak inherits a Tory party some 20 points behind the Labor opposition in the polls following the implosions of Boris Johnson and Liz Truss’s premierships. Their bleak electoral prospects have come back into focus after two young Tory MPs announced they would be leaving parliament at the next election.
Chloe Smith, a 40-year-old former cabinet minister in the Truss government, said: “It was the right time to step back, for me and my young family.” William Wragg, who is 34, also said he would not stand again. Bloomberg reported over the weekend that many Tory MPs are resigning themselves to their fate and are already planning their next career path.
Sunak is also facing potential sticking points over two senior members of his cabinet who have become embroiled in arguments over their behaviour.
Downing Street could appoint an independent figure on Wednesday to investigate formal bullying complaints against Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab. The Guardian reported that several formal complaints had since been made by officials about his behaviour. Raab denies the allegations of bullying.
Another cabinet minister, Gavin Williamson, previously resigned from Sunak’s government over allegations of harassment, which he also denied. Meanwhile, Interior Secretary Suella Braverman faces a potential judicial review over her handling of illegal immigration.
The harsh winter ahead was compounded when the RMT union announced a series of rail strike dates around the Christmas period. Tory MPs fear the nation could be hit by a wave of industrial action after National Health Service nurses also voted for their biggest strike in a century over wages.
At a meeting of his cabinet on Tuesday morning, Sunak warned that the country faces a “challenging period” in the coming months, according to a reading from Downing Street. Health Secretary Steve Barclay revealed the size of the NHS backlog, with 400,000 people still waiting more than 52 weeks for surgery, compared to 1,600 pre-pandemic.
The government “had a clear plan to get through the winter months” and “further help the UK recover from the global challenges it faces,” Downing Street said.

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