Tory blame game already begins with a week to go before polling day

The blame game has already begun within the Tories as the party prepares to face what could be the most catastrophic defeat in its history in just a week.

With seven days to go, polls suggest that the Conservative Party is on the brink of a wipeout with a strong possibility it will get less than 100 MPs elected.

While fingers have been pointed by different factions behind the scenes for months even before the election, senior figures are now breaking ranks to give their verdicts even before most voters have cast their votes.

First out of the traps was former cabinet minister Nadine Dorries who has told The Independent that she blames Michael Gove for a malaise that has set in over the last 14 years and is demanding he does not get a seat in the Lords - just as she was denied one.

Gove has been blamed by Dorries (Getty Images)
Gove has been blamed by Dorries (Getty Images)

She said: “Gove’s been in cabinet for longer than any current or former Conservative MP since 2010.

“This general election will be a verdict on Michael Gove and his think tanks, Onward and Policy Exchange, more than a verdict on any serving or former prime minister.”

Ms Dorries,the former culture secretary, has never forgiven Mr Gove for twice “betraying” Boris Johnson after the 2016 EU referendum and then after Partygate.

But she also believes the policy platforms from the two think tanks close to him lie at the heart of the Tory nightmare with anger at the “big state, big tax, big regulation approach” of the Sunak government.

Ms Dorries said: “Gove has repeatedly stabbed democratically elected Prime Ministers in the back - Boris in 2016 and 22, and Liz in 22 - and at every turn he’s chosen the socialist rather than the conservative option. This is why we’re behind in the polls.

Nadine Dorries has broken the silence on who is to blame (Jeff Overs/BBC/PA) (PA Media)
Nadine Dorries has broken the silence on who is to blame (Jeff Overs/BBC/PA) (PA Media)

“This torture must not continue after 4 July. He must never be allowed to represent the Tory Party again and at all times, those who believe in conservatism and democracy need to watch out for his influence and dark arts as the leadership battle starts.”

Policy Exchange and Onward were contacted but did not respond. A source close to Mr Gove said: “Michael wishes Nadine all the very best for the future.”

Her intervention comes amid speculation that Lord David Cameron will be asked to be an interim leader after a crushing defeat while the party decides what changes are needed to its rules and how it wants to move forward with a new permanent leader. A source close to the foreign secretary has described this as “utter nonsense” though.

There are concerns that ordinary members could be cut out of choosing the next leader altogether even if the Tories are only left with a handful of MPs.

Former 1922 Committee chairman Sir Graham Brady has confirmed he will be available to provide advice to the successor committee for Tory MPs which will help draft the leadership contest rules.

But Ms Dorries is not alone in giving reasons for the party’s worst failure in 346 years of history.

Brexiteers and allies of former prime minister Liz Truss are planning to highlight the failures to make the most of leaving the EU, cutting taxes and leaving the ECHR.

Foreign Secretary Lord David Cameron could be an interim leader (Victoria Jones/PA) (PA Wire)
Foreign Secretary Lord David Cameron could be an interim leader (Victoria Jones/PA) (PA Wire)

They point to “gulf left on the right” by the party for Nigel Farage and Reform UK to fill in the election seeing millions of voters defect away from the Tories.

Rightwingers like Suella Braverman and Jacob Rees-Mogg have already said they agree with many of Reform’s policies.

Meanwhile, veteran Thatcherite Brexiteer Sir John Redwood has confirmed he is writing a piece detailing why the Sunak government has failed.

But Tory MPs on the centre and One Nation side of the party fear a lurch to the right has already proven to be damaging to the Conservatives in this election.

Former minister Tobias Ellwood, who is fighting for his Bournemouth East seat, told The Independent: “From Disraeli to Baldwin, Churchill to Thatcher, our great party has always succeeded when we appeal beyond our base to the wider electorate. This is what our Prime Minister is seeking to do. Moving to the right - is a guaranteed recipe for opposition.

“Let’s exhibit the centre-right statecraft which has served us well in the past.”

However, responding to briefings from One Nation Tories that Brexit was the problem that hs destroyed the party, former Brexit minister and European Research Group deputy chairman David Jones has hit back.

He said: “Brexit hasn’t gone wrong. We have recovered sovereignty (though NI remains to be resolved). Remainers still can’t come to terms with the fact that the people rejected the EU.

“Rather than moaning, they should be working hard to make sure that Brexit delivers economic benefits. We are already seeing superb trade deals. More will come. Remember we we stuck in the EU for half a century. Brexit was therefore never going to be an overnight project.”

The situation has drawn comparisons with the 1997 debacle under John Major after they went down to their second worst ever defeat against Tony Blair.

But Sir Malcolm Rifknd, who was Major’s foreign secretary, said there are key differences.

He is also clear, as are many in the One Nation Group, that Boris Johnson and Liz Truss were responsible for the impending defeat.

He told The Independent: “The main similarity with the 1997 government was we were in power for too long!

“But there are two main differences. First, Starmer is not Blair. He is dull but that may not stop him winning. Attlee's defeat of Churchill in 1945 was not because of his charisma.

“The other difference is the legacy of Johnson and Truss. Both were unfit to be prime minister. Major was defeated but also respected by the public. Sunak's integrity is recognised but the battle was lost before he became prime minister.”

In a week’s time many more senior Tories are expected to go public especially with the prospect of a leadership contest in full swing.

While the different factions will seek to blame each other it is not clear yet who will survive to be their leadership candidates. Favourites Kemi Badenoch and Penny Mordaunt are both vulnerable to defeat.