Steve Tuckwell’s victory speech in Uxbridge and South Ruislip
The two men in question running the spluttering Conservative election machine are party chairman Greg Hands and the consultant-cum-official election coordinator Isaac Levido. Both have large targets on their backs going into the summer recess.
It may seem odd to discuss sacking election chiefs after a surprise Tory victory.
But as one MP put it, Steve Tuckwell, the victorious Uxbridge and South Ruislip candidate, “virtually thanked Sadiq Khan” in his acceptance speech and barely mentioned the Prime Minister.
ULEZ and a hatred of Mr Khan’s shambolic mayoralty was what won it for Mr Tuckwell not a brilliant campaign or a reviving government.
The appalling results in Selby and Ainsty, and Somerton and Frome appeared to be much more representative of “the absolute carnage”, as another MP described it, at CCHQ and in Downing Street.
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Who are Isaac Levido and Greg Hands?
Mr Levido is a controversial figure behind the scenes, seen by many as more powerful than almost anybody involved in the government except the Prime Minister himself.
A pollster who used to work for the legendary Sir Lynton Crosby and then left to set up his own company Fleetwood.
He was brought in by Boris Johnson and credited with much of the work of getting an 80-seat majority.
But then he was sacked by Liz Truss because, as one of her Cabinet claimed: “He cost £30,000 a month, we were not sure for what and he turned up to meetings drunk.”
The more likely reason is that Ms Truss’s chief of staff, Mark Fullbrook and he are deadly enemies and the two were never going to operate in Downing Street together.
Meanwhile, Mr Hands, supposedly handpicked in February as chairman by Mr Levido after Nadhim Zahawi was forced to resign following a financial scandal, has been MP for Hammersmith and Fulham in west London since 2005, held various ministerial posts but until this year has never been on the front bench.
He was at the time a popular choice as chairman but since then things have gone rapidly downhill.
But it says something that the two by-election defeats last night are not even at the top of the lengthy charge sheet against the two men.
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Preparing for a Labour Government
The Italian writer Dante reserved the ninth and worst circle of Hell for traitors, and “treason” is one of the words used by Mr Levido when it emerged that Fleetwood, his company, has appointed Labour operators in what appears to be a move to prepare for a Labour Government.
To be specific, he has recently hired Melantha Chittenden, a senior Labour figure who spent four years at the Community trade union, regularly liaising with Labour MPs and shadow ministers.
As one MP asked: “How can the Prime Minister’s election coordinator appoint people from Labour? It is not exactly a vote of confidence.”
Another described it as “a kick in the teeth” for Mr Sunak.
An Australian politician who knows Mr Levido, a fellow Ozzie, compared to his old boss Sir Lynton, another operative from Down Under.
They said: “Lynton was a c*** but he would never have dirtied his hands by bringing in people from the left. That really is low.”
The Five Priorities
Ed Miliband had his tombstone gimmick and Rishi Sunak has gone even worse with his five priorities.
When the five were unveiled in January everyone was left scratching their heads at the lack of ambition in his promises.
They were (to remind you all): Stop the small boats, bring down NHS waiting lists, halve inflation, grow the economy, and reduce debt.
Despite the apparent lack of ambition though it seems that at the last count, Mr Sunak will achieve none of them or maybe one (inflation) at the expense of another (economic growth).
Small boats across the Channel have increased, inflation remains stubborn, the UK is on the verge of a recession, NHS waiting lists have lengthened and debt is now more than 100 percent of GDP.
But who was responsible for this debacle? You guessed it Isaac Levido (or at least according to his growing number of critics, he has reportedly been trying to distance himself from the five priorities lately).
It was Mr Levido’s polling which formed the basis of his advice to target those five areas. Perhaps not a bad strategy if you are confident of achieving them.
As one MP (who was not alone in his concerns) put it: “It’s hard to know what was worse, the lack of ambition or the failure to deliver. The Prime Minister really needs to think about who he is taking advice from.”
Others have been more straightforward. Former Brexit minister Lord Frost recently told Express.co.uk: “It is clear the Prime Minister will need to move on from his five priorities very soon.”
The London Mayoral candidate debacle
The Tories had one job here – select the best person to run against Sadiq Khan to try to win back London.
That person was London Minister Paul Scully, a solid and popular candidate experienced in political battles, but amazingly they managed to not just screw it up in spectacular fashion but then double down on their mistakes.
Express.co.uk has gone into detail before about what happened at the shortlisting event but the Tories ended up ditching Mr Scully and choosing Daniel Korski (who had to withdraw amid allegations, which he denied, that he was a sex pest); barrister Mo Hossain (who had zero political experience and fell apart in an interview on GB News) and the eventual winner Assembly Member Susan Hall (who, according to people in the room, got on to the last three ahead of Mr Scully in a run-off because “she was a woman”).
As one former party chairman put it: “Paul was completely screwed over and the whole thing is an embarrassment.”
How did it happen? Well, a major party donor who was backing another candidate supposedly persuaded CCHQ to do polling to show that someone associated with the Government and a minister could not win in London.
Apparently, Mr Levido’s outfit did the polling and then provided the briefing that they needed to select someone who was not a Tory MP. As there was only one Tory MP it was clear that the whole exercise had been to noble Mr Scully’s candidacy.
But it gets worse. When Mr Korski withdrew under a hail of sex pest allegations, Greg Hands had the opportunity to put the issue right and either reopen nominations or just bring Mr Scully in as the third candidate.
Mr Hands took the decision to go with the final two even though people around him were describing the choice as “an absolute travesty”.
As one MP put it: “I was willing to give Greg the benefit of the doubt but really this was unforgivable.”
The 2023 local elections
When you give a worst-case scenario, generally the idea is that you are setting expectations for a bad night and do a bit better than what you have predicted.
Unfortunately for Mr Hands, his prediction of 1,000 seats lost was actually easily exceeded on the night making the whole election bloodbath look even worse.
Again, supposedly according to sources, his expectation management came from polling predictions from Mr Levido.
But there was another issue here. The same round of elections of council seats last took place when There May’s Government was wracked by a Brexit negotiations crisis and on the verge of collapse.
Mr Sunak’s election chiefs delivered a result of more than 1,000 seats worse than May achieved at her lowest ebb.
The only thing which spared any of them was the fact the Coronation took place the weekend after the nation’s gaze and news pages had something else to focus on.
Throwing MPs under the bus
Paul Scully is not the only MP to have some reason to feel bitter about Mr Sunak and his election chiefs.
Say what you like about Boris Johnson, he was always loyal to his ministers and stuck up for them including Mr Sunak, Priti Patel and others.
Instead, Mr Sunak has, in the words of a former minister, “made a habit of throwing MPs under the bus”.
Just ask Dominic Raab forced to quit as Deputy Prime Minister over bullying allegations which were not properly supported.
Or Nadhim Zahawi and Gavin Williamson ejected without a second thought despite Mr Williamson playing a key role in getting Mr Sunak into Number 10.
According to sources some of the advice on this is coming from Mr Levido who has apparently told Mr Sunak that he needs to do everything he can to avoid damaging controversy, including letting ministers go at the whiff of scandal.
While it may work as a damage limitation exercise, it is not working in terms of building loyalty internally to the Sunak brand.
The by-election defeats
Somehow last night’s results in Selby and Ainsty, and Somerton and Frome are the cherry on the top for the Sunak election fighting team’s woes.
Both seats had majorities of around 20,000 if they go then most of the other Conservative seats can go too.
While Mr Hands and Mr Levido cannot be blamed for all the problems in the Government by any means, it is a bad look when the only victory you pull off is a surprise one gifted by Labour London Mayor Sadiq Khan being even more hated and even worse.
It looks though as if Mr Sunak will not be making changes until MPs return in September.
Those could range from more dramatic clearouts to a moving of the deckchairs.
But Tory MPs now are getting desperate and many of them have lost confidence in the Prime Minister as a leader and in the two men who he has in charge of next year’s election.
It will be interesting to see if Mr Sunak responds in any way to those concerns.
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