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Tories expect new move against beleaguered PM

A “terrible” week for both Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer has left both Conservative and Labour insiders assessing who has suffered the most damage.

For the Prime Minister, two unforced errors – taking a £1,000 bet with Piers Morgan on deporting people to Rwanda and joking about trans issues in the Commons as Brianna Ghey’s mother visited Parliament – have led to fresh accusations he lacks political nous and is out of touch.

Meanwhile, Mr Starmer is facing accusations of being a flip-flopper from the right while the left criticises his lack of ambition after finally confirming Labour was U-turning on its plan to spend £28bn a year on its green growth plan.

One Tory ex-minister said the week had been “terrible for both”.

“No one outside Westminster has noticed Rishi’s error and that is his real problem, he has no cut through to the public,” they said.

“Labour are very poor, have no coherent plan for voters and their poll lead is dependent on Tory voters staying at home.

“Labour veterans are very scared they will not win more than 80-100 seats and face a hung parliament.”

But while Mr Starmer has provided some cheer for Tories and angered some on the left of his party and beyond, it is Mr Sunak who faces the bigger danger amid the right-wing plot to oust him before the election.

The Prime Minister’s problem is clear – the right is losing faith in him even as he tries to speak to their agenda with his tough stance on trans rights and Rwanda.

A source familiar with right wing MPs’ thinking said: “Tepid Toryism, far from bringing us into touching distance of Labour, has bombed our ratings.

“If he can’t even land basic attack lines on issues where the public are with us, they’re only going to sink yet further.”

Another MP added: “We just don’t have a vision at the moment for what the next 15 years of a Rishi Sunak government might look like.

“We need to really give people reasons not to vote for Keir Starmer.”

Some predict the leadership plotters’ next push will come in the aftermath of twin by-elections next week in which the Tories are expected to lose the Kingswood and Wellingborough seats to Labour, although it is not expected to prove decisive as the rebels’ strategy is to build momentum up to the local elections on 2 May.

A source involved in the Rwanda rebellion said: “They will have another go at Sunak after the by-elections, they see that as the next opportunity.

“So he’s got to show things are going in the right direction at that point.”

An MP on the right said the plotters may have missed their opportunity after “the Rwanda rebellion failed”.

“We will have to unite behind him… Unless, of course, something happens after the by-elections.

“Rishi is the wrong leader but there isn’t another candidate. And the idea we could have a snap leadership election where voters don’t notice and who after a smooth transition goes on to win the election is impossible. It would be a bloodbath. We need to keep Rishi but encourage him to adopt more of our proposals.”

Those close to Mr Sunak brush off any frustration that his errors have overshadowed good news in Stormont reforming and a potent attack on Labour’s spending plans by arguing that the Tories have forced Mr Starmer into a humiliating U-turn on its green growth plan.

“A day after that [the trans row] they are ditching their entire economic agenda so there’s no frustration at all,” a senior Tory source said.

Labour insiders meanwhile bemoaned the cutting in half of the party’s £28bn green investment pledge, with one senior insider saying it is a “big deal for a party accused of not having any policy or vision”.

The failure to quash weeks of speculation about the policy, as the shadow Treasury team led by Rachel Reeves refused to back the figure in public, in contrast to Mr Starmer, was a “total failure of leadership structures and decision making”, another insider said.

“Keir was shouting about the investment, Rachel was shouting about the fiscal rules and they looked like they were at war,” the insider said.

“It bodes ill for government. Talking about a number was totally stupid. Shit politics, shit policy.”

One source meanwhile suggested Ms Reeves had won an internal battle over the policy – denied by Mr Starmer – because she has the backing of the dominant factions such as Labour Together and Labour to Win, which are seen by some in the party as Blairite.

The factional machinations inside the party are more loyal to Reeves than him. He was always seen as a placeholder to defeat the left and bridge to the likes of Streeting or Reeves.

“He would not win an internal war with her.”

This characterisation was however rejected by a source familiar with Labour Together’s thinking: “Every sensible person connected to the Labour Party is working towards the same goal – ensuring Keir Starmer is the next prime minister so we can be rid of this divided, failing Tory Government and get Britain’s future back.”

Elsewhere, some in Labour fear next week’s by-elections may not be the smooth ride that has been predicted.

“The mood music seems to be positive in Wellingborough, much less so in Kingswood,” the senior insider said.

That said, Mr Sunak’s gaffes this week will “fuel what voters already think and have done for months”, that “the Tories are done”.

“They’re rats in a sack on a slowly sinking ship,” the insider added.

But they warned that Labour’s approach of “throwing the kitchen sink” at by-elections could harm its effort to win target seats in the general election.

The party’s entire ground operation has been told to go to the by-elections next week “so there will be priority seats all over the UK without staff working in those seats, there will be large swathes of the country that will have been neglected.”

“The strategy has been all over the place,” they added.

A Labour source defended the party’s plan saying “both Wellingborough and Kingswood have huge Tory majorities that were always going to be a challenge for Labour to overturn”.

“If Rishi Sunak is too frightened to call a general election, Labour will throw everything we can at securing a fresh start with our candidates Gen Kitchen and Damien Egan.”

And if the kitchen sink strategy is successful it will provide a welcome boost for Mr Starmer and once again signal danger for Mr Sunak.

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