Editorial: The UK government looks increasingly divided and desperate

News Letter editorial on Thursday January 25 2024:
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The government was again engulfed by stories about Conservative infighting yesterday, as a former cabinet minister, Sir Simon Clarke, urged his colleagues to replace Rishi Sunak as prime minister.​

Sir Simon is one of the Tories’ most high-profile ‘red wall’ MPs, representing the wing of the party that won new supporters in northern England by emphasising its commitment to Brexit and opposition to unchecked immigration.

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This time, many senior Conservatives quickly rounded on Clarke and rushed to Sunak’s defence. Even Dame Priti Patel, who is known as a keen Brexiteer, accused him of engaging in “divisive self-indulgence”.

Some of Mr Sunak’s staunchest critics also backed off recently, after threatening to rebel against his leadership during the Rwanda bill vote.

The prime minister’s position, then, is probably safe for the time being. But that cannot disguise the fact that the Tory party is made up of a coalition of different worldviews that is now surely fractured beyond repair.

If Conservative MPs seem resigned to following their current leader into the General Election, that is simply because the alternative is to fight the poll in an even greater state of turmoil. After all, Sir Simon was only joining influential figures like Lord Frost and Lord Ashcroft in predicting electoral ‘catastrophe’ for the party.

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There are few Tories who do not now expect a humiliating defeat at the election, followed by a struggle for the party’s future, involving the different wings of Conservatism.

In Northern Ireland, of course, the prime minister’s aim is to pressurise the DUP into accepting his offer on the Windsor Framework and restoring power-sharing. That pressure is increasingly coming from a chaotic, divided and desperate government.