MPs are jumping Tories' ship before she capsizes

It’s not looking good. The best young talent of the Tory Party is making an exodus ahead of a December 5 deadline for MPs to declare if they intend to stand in the next general election.

Larry’s staying put
Larry’s staying put

The game is up, it seems, for so many who have overseen a lowering of the nation’s living standards across the past 12 years.

At least Larry the cat is staying put in Downing Street. He provides the only continuity in this chaotic government term.

Dehenna Davison, Tory MP for Bishop Auckland, and Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Levelling Up, is one who is upping sticks. She was elected only in 2019, and won a seat held by Labour since 1935.

She’s one of many. Seven others have decided to quit, including Chloe Smith, MP for Norwich North and briefly work and pensions secretary. She has represented her constituency since 2009 and at 27, she was the youngest MP in the House of Commons when first elected. Similarly, William Wragg, MP for Hazel Grove since 2015, is another. He was a staunch critic of the then Prime Minister Boris Johnson and accused Downing Street of blackmailing MPs.

It’s no real surprise. Former Chancellor George Osborne has acknowledged that the Government is no longer in charge of events – with strikes looming, the Army is on standby to rescue the NHS.

Rishi Sunak, the acceptable face of Conservatism, is facing all manner of rebellions as discipline breaks down under the third Tory Party leader since the last general election. He faces tough decisions on energy, housing and transport, while knowing that he does not command the support of colleagues.

And then there’s Brexit – a policy forecast to cost us, the British public, an eye-watering £100 billion. Imagine that. The policy that we were told would make us richer has, in fact, made us the poor man of Europe. We’re on the outside, unable to influence events, being left behind while Europe makes a faster recovery from Covid and the war in Ukraine than the rest of us. It’s not just the economy that’s slowing down, it’s also our ability to maintain critical public services.

While many voted for Brexit on the false assumption that it would enable Britain to control its borders – I know, a record 500,000 migrated here in the past year, so that didn’t work – the issues are more serious. As the NHS creaks as a result of underfunding and over-administration and a lack of joined-up standards, it’s struggling from huge staff shortages. The European workers who used to fill our wards are no longer coming – 4,000 fewer European doctors now work in the NHS than in 2016.

The cost of heating means an increasing number are having to decide whether to heat or eat, and some can’t afford either. We’re heading into the worst winter in living memory while under a Government with insufficient resources and too little internal cohesion to guide us through. For many, it’s frightening.

Such issues as energy – should we build wind farms on land? – housing – where are all the new houses coming from and should we build on Green Belt? – and transport ... truthfully, where to start – are in stasis. Rishi Sunak doesn’t have a mandate and his party isn’t behind him. He’s trying to guide a listing ship and is doing a better job than the previous two incumbents, but his tenure is likely to be short.

And then there’s the conduct at Westminster. The worst of the sleaze may have gone with the departure of Boris Johnson, yet a huge number of questions remain. What happened to the tens of millions gifted to MP’s mates for dodgy PPE equipment that didn’t work? What happened to the report on Russian influence in British politics? Why do parliamentary staffers face an ‘unacceptable risk’ of unwelcome sexual advances by MPs and what does it say about the climate in the House of Commons that more than 50 MPs – that’s one in 13 – are facing allegations of sexual misconduct?

Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour Party is increasingly looking electable as the Conservatives drift and decline. A wipe-out on the scale of the 1997 election, when Tony Blair secured an extra146 seats and the Tories lost 178, may not materialise. The warning signs are there, however, and with multiple challenges, no money and rank disunity, things are unlikely to improve.

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