Sunak under pressure amid campaign to save 'Tory Democracy'

Rishi SunakRishi Sunak
Rishi Sunak
Rishi Sunak is facing fresh pressure from within the Conservative Party, with Brexiteers and former Boris Johnson loyalists planning a campaign to "restore democracy" within the party.

The campaign, which takes issue with Mr Sunak's elevation to Number 10 without a membership vote, is backed by Tory peer and donor Lord Cruddas and organised by Brexiteer David Campbell Bannerman.

Lord Cruddas, who previously organised a petition to keep Mr Johnson in office after he was ousted by his own MPs and claimed Liz Truss faced a "conspiracy" by the backbench 1922 Committee, said democracy within the party is "dying on its feet".

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Mr Campbell Bannerman quit the Tories in 2004 and joined Ukip, becoming deputy leader before later defecting back to the Conservatives in 2011.

The Conservative Democratic Organisation, which is pledging to "empower the grassroots and restore democracy in the party", has also received the backing of former home secretary and Johnson ally Priti Patel, who called members the "heart and soul of our party".

Mr Sunak entered Downing Street in October following the collapse of Ms Truss's administration after being elected solely by Conservative MPs.

He lost the leadership race over the summer, after being defeated by Ms Truss in a vote of around 180,000 Tory members.

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The organisation said the campaign comes after "Tory MPs ousted grassroots favourite Boris Johnson as prime minister" and then "overthrew his successor Liz Truss, voted in by members, and installed her defeated rival Rishi Sunak".

The campaign has explicitly said it is concerned about the "left of centre position" of Mr Sunak and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt's tax plans, while also pointing to "serious concerns about the political views of many Tory MPs elected under David Cameron's leadership" due to the party headquarters' powerful role in candidate selection.

Ms Patel has lent the campaign her support, telling her party leadership that "party members are committed to our values of freedom, enterprise and opportunity and we need to empower them to have more say over our policies and candidates".

"That will make us stronger, more successful in Government, and boost our membership numbers."

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The group is drafting a new constitution for the party, which would give local associations the right to choose their own parliamentary candidate without interference by Conservative headquarters.

A directly elected party chair is also among the group's demands, as well as giving members more say in determining party policy at annual conferences.

Mr Campbell Bannerman said: "Sadly, democracy is now on life support within the Conservative Party.

"Members are being treated with contempt and the party has become grossly over-centralised. We need to rebuild the party from the ground up."

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The campaign emerges as the latest challenge to Mr Sunak's authority, who has already been forced to compromise over demands from backbenchers on issues such as onshore wind and housing targets.

Over the weekend, backbench Tory Lee Anderson also appeared to issue the Prime Minister with a veiled threat to quit the party if illegal immigration is not sufficiently tackled.

In an article in the Mail on Sunday, the Ashfield MP warned: "My party can be a force for good in this great country, but it isn't yet choosing to be.

"If this isn't solved within the first three months of 2023, we will struggle to retain the red wall seats and my conscience will be severely tested because I want to stand as a Conservative candidate representing a party that will put the interests of my constituents before the thousands of illegal immigrants arriving here every month."

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The Chancellor is also facing calls from 40 MPs to cut Government spending on equality, diversity and inclusion initiatives.

A letter, first reported by the Telegraph newspaper, has been sent to Mr Hunt, citing a forthcoming Conservative Way Forward report claiming that billions of pounds are being spent on "politically motivated and divisive activities".

Senior MPs including Sir Iain Duncan Smith, Sir Jake Berry and David Davis are among those to have signed the letter, which complains about the scale of taxation introduced by Mr Hunt's autumn statement.

"We will have a much better chance of cutting taxes or spending more on frontline public services if we end this sort of waste."

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The Chancellor is understood to be open to considering the Conservative Way Forward report as part of a wider efficiency review.

A Treasury spokesman said: "The Chancellor has been clear that spending discipline is crucial for building market credibility, ensuring economic stability, driving long-term growth and sustainably funding public services.

"Value for money remains paramount for the Treasury. To help manage pressures from higher inflation and keep spending focused on the Government's priorities, departments will continue to identify efficiency savings in day-to-day budgets.

"To support departments to do this, the Chancellor is launching an Efficiency and Savings Review. This will include reprioritising spending away from lower-value and low-priority programmes."