19.2 C
New York

Tory Turmoil Deepens As Benton Resignation Exposes Divisions

Published:

Overview

The Tory party is in turmoil. Crippling divisions, plunging popularity, and threats of defections to insurgent rivals have Prime Minister Rishi Sunak fighting to hold his party together. The resignation of MP Scott Benton has become the latest fracture in the Tories’ unfolding existential crisis.

Sunak cut an uncharacteristically fiery figure in railing against rebel MPs conspiring against his imperilled leadership. But authoritative shows of strength may only alienate the party’s populist base further. 

With the prime minister derided as an out-of-touch technocrat unable to inspire, the stage is set for an ideological reckoning.

Sensing blood, Reform UK stands ready to cleave away the Conservatives’ Brexit-loyal working class support with unapologetic right-wing populism. 

Defections have already begun, piling humiliation upon the beleaguered Tories. As polls tighten, Sunak must urgently resuscitate his stricken party’s fortunes – or go down as the PM who presided over its implosion.

Tory MP Resigns To Avoid Embarrassment

The resignation of Scott Benton, Conservative MP for Blackpool South, has sparked yet another political crisis for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and deepened divides within the floundering Tory party. 

Benton’s decision to quit comes as the Tories lag dangerously behind Labour in polls and face an existential threat from the insurgent Reform UK party led by Richard Tice.

Benton resigned after being suspended from Parliament for 35 days due to a lobbying scandal. 

Scott Benton got caught in a sting operation by undercover journalists last April. He was filmed telling agents posing as gambling industry investors that he could illegally lobby government ministers and ask biassed parliamentary questions to benefit them, in exchange for money. 

After the scandalous video leaked to The Times newspaper, Benton was swiftly suspended from the Conservative party. An investigation later confirmed he had broken parliamentary ethics rules through these dodgy offers.

Scott was facing the prospect of a recall petition that would have likely seen his constituents vote to remove him from office. By resigning, Benton avoided the embarrassment of essentially being thrown out.

His departure triggers a tricky by-election in Blackpool South, a seat he won by a narrow margin of 3,690 votes in the 2019 general election. With Labour currently enjoying commanding leads in national polls, the opposition party is expected to regain this traditionally red constituency. 

The vote will be the eighth by-election in a Tory seat since Sunak entered No 10. The PM has already lost seven, underscoring the Conservatives’ collapsing popularity under his leadership.

Benton’s resignation notice stated he wanted to give the Tories time to find a strong candidate to defend the seat. But nerves are fraying within the party that another loss will pile pressure on Sunak just months out from a general election. 

Morale has plummeted amongst Tory MPs who see electoral wipeout looming. Many yearn for a leader with greater public appeal to replace the struggling Sunak.

Sunak Expresses Anger at The Tory Plot to Replace Him

Sunak has pleaded for unity, urging his fractious party to rally behind him. But plots are already underway to install potential replacements like Penny Mordaunt before the election. 

Sunak left no doubt about his frustration with rebel Tory MPs plotting against his leadership, telling a private meeting of lawmakers that their conspiring made him “angry”. 

According to sources familiar with the gathering, Sunak railed against the scheming of a small faction determined to undermine him, dismissing them as damaging outliers within the party.

Witnesses described the prime minister as unusually fired up, with one MP calling his performance “fiery” in confronting dissenters. Sunak reportedly stated these agitators were hurting all Conservatives by fostering instability months before a general election.

After enduring weeks of leadership speculation, the prime minister forcefully hit back against coup plotters to bring them into line. Outside the meeting, allies vocally echoed Sunak’s call for unity. 

Senior Tory MP Shailesh Vara praised his “passionate” display, while backbencher Jonathan Gullis branded rebels “idiots” seeking to divide the party.

Sunak seems determined to stamp out lingering mutiny, but this stance may only stoke further resentment within party ranks. Many MPs feel Sunak is oblivious to the scale of electoral challenge ahead.

The prime minister finds himself locked in an escalating civil war with insurgents trying to hasten his downfall. Even a fiery intervention may not cow rebellious MPs determined to replace Sunak before he leads them into electoral oblivion.

Tory Troubles are Far From Little

The Tories’ troubles are compounded by the dramatic rise of Reform UK under Richard Tice. The splinter party has poached several high-profile Conservative defectors and surged to a record 15% in recent polling, just 4 points behind the Tories. Reform appears well-placed to syphon disaffected Tory voters if Sunak cannot turn around his uninspiring leadership.

The defection of former deputy party chair a few weeks ago to Reform UK has also sent shockwaves through the Conservative party. 

Anderson accused the Tories of betraying supporters and ignoring working-class communities. His departure was a huge propaganda win for Tice’s fast-surging party. Further defections seem imminent as Reform’s popularity grows.

Just this week, Dan Barker, the Tory candidate for Mayor of Greater Manchester, also jumped ship to Reform UK. 

In a scathing indictment of Sunak, Barker said the Conservatives had “given up” on the North and were only interested in protecting southern seats from the Lib Dems. His very public resignation piled more humiliation on the beleaguered Tories.

Sunak had dismissed Reform UK as a protest vehicle for single issue voters. But the party’s savvy repositioning around the cost-of-living crisis and anti-woke messaging is now reaping dividends across Red Wall seats. 

Reform UK promises to slash taxes, cut immigration, reform the media and stand up for traditional British values. This patriotic vision powerfully resonates with once-loyal Tories from working-class backgrounds.

Grassroots anger is growing that Sunak has abandoned the populist, anti-establishment platform that delivered Boris Johnson’s thumping 2019 majority. 

The PM is hamstrung by the lingering aftermath of Liz Truss’ disastrous mini-budget. But troops are getting restless for bolder leadership and policies that will return the party to its 2019 peak.

Sunak’s mild-mannered technocratic style is failing to inspire. Fairly or not, he is seen as an out-of-touch former hedge fund manager and Davos man – not the Brexit champion that brought swathes of Labour voters into the Tory fold. 

Reform UK’s fiery populism makes them a more natural home for these patriotic blue-collar workers.

Sunak’s struggles to connect with the party’s populist base have opened the door for Reform UK’s insurgency. The more Sunak doubles down on centrist technocracy without conviction, the greater the contrast appears with Reform UK’s full-throated right-wing populism. 

Sunak’s mild persona and hedge fund pedigree jar with the Tories’ new Brexit-loyal working-class electorate. These disillusioned voters increasingly view Reform UK as a more natural home. 

Reckoning

The Conservatives face a deep ideological reckoning – whether to stick with Sunak’s bloodless managerialism or tack decisively rightwards. With Benton’s resignation underlining fissures within the party, major change appears inescapable.

Talk swirls of electing a new leader to rediscover the party’s soul – or simply skipping straight to a general election. Sunak has shaken his party to the core. And as Benton’s resignation spotlights, the Tory troubles run far deeper than any quick fixes can patch up. Muddling through looks unlikely to prevent the march of Reform UK.

The Tories stand at a crossroads. Within weeks, Sunak must decide which road to take. Inspirational leadership and clarity of vision will be essential. Right now, Sunak is providing neither – and the clock is ticking.

More defections to the insurgent threat of Reform UK seem inevitable unless he can unite his demoralised party around core principles it stands for. 

The embattled PM remains defiant. But the wolves are circling. Sunak’s grip on power is dependent on his ability to see off Tice’s resurgent flag-bearers of Conservative tradition. The battle for the soul of the Tory party is well and truly underway. All eyes turn to Sunak to prevent a looming existential crisis.

The civil war engulfing the Conservatives reveals a movement adrift – and Reform UK may soon triumphantly march through the gaping divisions unless order is firmly restored.

Related articles

Recent articles

spot_img