Tory MPs snub Rishi Sunak’s election rally to drown their sorrows in parliament’s ‘Strangers’ bar

There was a noticeable lack of enthusiasm among Tory MPs expected to join Rishi Sunak in the ExCel in east London where he was holding his first rally. Instead, many chose to drown their sorrows.

Several rolled their eyes when asked why they were not with the prime minister on Wednesday evening, consoling themselves with drinks in parliament’s Strangers Bar as the enormity of what had just happened sank in.

Mr Sunak’s bold move to call an early general election on 4 July had caught nearly everyone by surprise, especially those who had planned a week’s break on a sunny beach well away from British shores and driving rain which had hours before soaked the prime minister.

It did not take long though for a nickname for the election to emerge from the clatter of pints of beer, wine glasses and gin and tonics. One ex-minister said: "This really is the kamikaze election. We are not sure who will come out of this with their seats."

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak watching beer being bottled at the Vale of Glamorgan Brewery (Stefan Rousseau/PA) (PA Wire)
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak watching beer being bottled at the Vale of Glamorgan Brewery (Stefan Rousseau/PA) (PA Wire)

Others nodded in agreement.

There was discussion about whether the Conservatives could somehow turn things around in the next six weeks with the polls consistently putting them 20 or more points behind Labour.

“I think Labour will only have a majority of around 40,” was the most optimistic prediction from one Tory source.

Optimism was largely replaced by anger in many quarters.

One former cabinet minister blasted: “Rishi Sunak is just a spoiled child! He has always been treated with privilege whether it was Winchester school or Oxford University being a Fulbright scholar, he has always been treated as the special one.

“He just hasn’t been able to bear the criticism and the backbiting and he has basically said ‘stuff you all! I’m going to call an election, I’ve had enough!’”

There was continued speculation about whether he is planning on getting out of the country and moving to California.

Starmer launches his campaign (Getty Images)
Starmer launches his campaign (Getty Images)

One donor privately claimed that friends of Mr Sunak had suggested he is already looking for school places for his daughters in the USA.

“An early election makes sense because you need to know where your kids are going to school before September.”

Among others though there was uncertainty about where a number of MPs will even be standing at the next election.

Many Tory seats are up for grabs, including some plum safe ones like the recently vacated Stratford upon Avon, currently held by former chancellor Nadhim Zahawi.

Stuart Andrew, whose Pudsey seat has been abolished by the boundary changes, was seen wandering around the terrace telling people: “I still haven’t got a seat yet.”

He is not alone among MPs who want to come back but do not know where.

Party chairman Richard Holden, who will be co-ordinating the campaign, still does not have a constituency to run in after his North West Durham seat disappeared and he turned down the chance to run again in the north east of England.

One Tory candidate, who was meeting MPs last night, shared an advert which revealed around 30 seats had been advertised on Tuesday just 24 hour before the prime minister made his announcement.

Other MPs - the ones who have decided to retire - looked a great deal more relaxed and happy.

Former minister for London Paul Scully was on the terrace with a broad grin telling people he was “relieved” and “glad to be able to get on with the next stage of my life”.

There were others speculating about the “gold rush” to the Lords.

“Far more MPs are going than Rishi will be able to nominate for a peerage. There are a lot of soon to be former MPs desperately trying to secure their seats on the red benches and many are going to be disappointed.”

But the really furious MPs were the ones who will have to give up their sun loungers for tramping around wet streets delivering leaflets.

One senior backbencher said: "This is utter madness. The Tory party is not ready, MPs are not ready. We need a break. This was the last chance for many to have a proper holiday.

"It shows that the PM does not give a s*** about backbenchers. I am not sure the party is ready yet to fight this election anyway."

But the morning after, Parliament had largely been deserted by its MPs who had gone back to get their local campaigns going.

The mood though had changed.

A former minister said: “I think the anger has given way to a sense that we need to get on with it and see if anybody comes back.”

But with former cabinet minister Jeremy Wright supposedly telling friends that he did not know his future with a majority north of 20,000 to defend, it was not clear who would survive what many believe will be a brutal six weeks for the Tories.