King Charles delivers his first King’s Speech in Parliament
Just as Rishi Sunak prepared for the King’s Speech today, he had to deal with two bombshell revelations about the mood of the Conservative faithful.
Firstly, polling by ConservativeHome found that a hefty 72 percent of those surveyed felt Nigel Farage should be welcomed back if he ever wanted to rejoin the Conservatives.
Then further polling by the same tribune of the grassroots left the Prime Minister languishing in the cabinet league table for net approval among Tory members at 23rd place, with the likes of James Cleverly, Kemi Badenoch and Penny Mordaunt way out in front.
Mr Sunak’s team will be inclined to brush off these findings as little more than noise, but they do so at their own peril. Such polling highlights an uncomfortable truth – the Conservative membership is yet to be convinced by the Prime Minister.
The Farage poll has prompted feverish speculation about when the Tories will be taken over by the former Ukip leader. Don’t expect it anytime soon – not least from the man himself who has made his career winding up the Tories.
In the same spirit, Mr Farage has not resisted making hay with this idea, repeatedly mocking the party for not being “real” Conservatives due to their approach to migration, Brexit and recent tax rises.
Meanwhile, it is no surprise to see who the most popular cabinet ministers are among the Tory faithful.
As Foreign Secretary, James Cleverly has been robust and relentless in his support of Israel’s right to defend itself from Hamas. As Trade Secretary, Kemi Badenoch has championed Global Britain and secured the landmark entry into the Trans-Pacific trade bloc. Meanwhile, Penny Mordaunt galvanises her fellow Tories with her regular punchy attacks on Labour and the SNP in the Commons.
This may not immediately matter to Mr Sunak, who was rushed into high office last year by MPs without facing members. But he will need the Tory faithful to come out at the next general election to keep Sir Keir Starmer and his comrades out of power.
We have seen the Tories pay the price already at the latest by-elections, where Reform UK deprived them of the votes that could have helped them cling onto Mid Bedfordshire and Tamworth.
At the next general election, disgruntled Tories across the country could be drawn to alternatives like Richard Tice’s party unless they are given enough reason to stick with Sunak and his team.
That is why today’s King’s Speech is much more than a list of forthcoming Government legislation. It is in effect the Prime Minister’s latest bid to show the British people he has the vision and determination to deliver what they most want to see.
Ministers insist this programme is not focused on an election, but it has inevitably been shaped by that because of how much time the Government will have to get things done – forcing them to prioritise.
The address includes lots of meaty legislation, ranging from law and order to the formal approval of Britain’s accession to the Trans-Pacific trade bloc.
But warm words will not be enough to reassure Mr Sunak’s doubters, especially when Labour continues to be far ahead in the polls. The Prime Minister’s commitment to driving a compellingly Conservative agenda will be tested again and again, such as at the Autumn Statement in two weeks – when Tory members will be far from alone in looking forward to the prospect of tax cuts.
To turn things around, the Prime Minister will need to work relentlessly to turn ambitious promises into meaningful change. If Mr Sunak can show he has the courage of his Conservative convictions, he could lead the party in a decisive fightback over the next year.
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