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Conservative Party conference: The whiff of defeat is causing problems for Rishi Sunak | Politics News

The whiff of possible defeat can do funny things to Tory members, MPs and yes, ministers too.

The Conservatives’ annual gathering in Manchester has barely begun and you can already observe what looks distinctly like a trend of political safety nets being erected, ministerial muscles being flexed and hot button policies being floated.

Politics live: Gove calls for tax cuts – but PM won’t commit

For Exhibit A, direct your attention to Michael Gove’s straight answer to a straight question – a pronouncement that he wants to see taxes coming down before the next election.

That one strand of the Tory strategy for the months ahead – to make a big offer on tax before the country goes to polls – is hardly a secret in Westminster.

But this is still strikingly different language to that used by the chancellor or, indeed, the prime minister.

Asked to repeat his cabinet colleague’s remarks, Rishi Sunak refused to entertain the idea, saying he was focused on inflation.

So what’s going on?

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‘I would like to see tax cuts before next election’, says Michael Gove

Whitehall sources attempted to play down the levelling up secretary’s comments. This suggests it wasn’t a sanctioned intervention to calm restless MPs.

The other option – could it be political chest beating from a cabinet heavyweight with little to lose?

Amid the gossip and intrigue of conference, it may look that way to some.

Which leads us to Kemi Badenoch and Suella Braverman.

The business secretary and home secretary have both run for leadership in the past, and would likely again, if a vacancy was to arise.

In the Sunday Times this morning, Ms Badenoch zeroed in on two policies guaranteed to makes the ears of the Tory faithful prick up – the European Convention on Human Rights and net zero.

On Sunday evening, she’ll also be the speaker at two private drinks receptions hosted by Conservative think tanks, including the free market – and dare I say, Trussite – organisation the Institute for Economic Affairs.

Those will likely be events that fall into the Tory HQ category of “may be of interest to the media”.

Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch speaks, at the BMW Mini plant at Cowley in Oxford, as the company announced plans to build its next-generation electric Mini in Oxford after securing a Government funding package. Picture date: Monday September 11, 2023.
Kemi Badenoch had her say in the Sunday papers

Head office will also be keeping an eye on Ms Braverman, following her stateside political chest-beating session over migration and international conventions.

But the common thread running through the remarks of the business, home and levelling up secretaries is that on paper, they don’t strictly clash with central policy.

However, when you look at the language – well, it’s language that would be far less likely to be used by ministers who felt completely comfortable about the electoral future of their party.

Accusations of political manoeuvring or getting excuses in early will clearly be denied by all involved.

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‘Speeches not substitute for delivery’ says Patel

But it’s a long-observed trait that the type of political destabilisation caused by the prospect of electoral annihilation can cause individuals to feel more emboldened to stray from the strict party line.

And that goes to the core of Mr Sunak’s big issue at this conference.

The prime minister wants to talk about tackling problems that will dog the country for years to come.

But with so many short-term challenges, he first needs to convince his members, MPs and ministers too that he’ll be around for long enough to see any of it through.

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