UK Politics

UK Politics: Michelle Mone could hammer the final nail into the Tory coffin

Conservative peer Baroness Michelle Mone
Michelle Mone could prove a nightmare for her former party

Just when you thought the news cycle couldn't get worse for the Tories, Michelle Mone hits the headlines. Paul Krishnamurty says their existential crisis just got a whole lot worse...

  • PPE corruption scandal is now big news

  • Labour gain another narrative weapon

  • Tory position much worse than 1997

One thing we can generally assume about the Tory party, with the odd exception such as their 2017 election campaign, is that their messaging and spin operation will be first class when it matters. Having the majority of media onside helps, and recent campaigns have been run by the firm founded by infamous, ruthlessly effective Australian, Lynton Crosby. In 2024, however, even that machine will have their work cut out.

Polling, betting signals remain grim

The last two years - I would say starting with the Owen Paterson scandal and subsequent by-election - have been a non-stop catastrophe. They are stuck at all-time lows in opinion polls and the betting signals are crystal clear.

As of today, Betfair markets rate Labour 88% likely to win Most Seats at odds of 1.141/7, 77% for an Overall Majority at 1.330/100, and the Tories are rated 38% likely to lose over 200 seats at 2.568/5.

That would be their worst ever fall, but a week is a long time in politics, let alone a year. We frequently hear of Tory resets, of how they will fight back and how Keir Starmer's Labour will crash under scrutiny. In fairness, many Labour people with long memories fear this too.

Latest scandal to thwart comeback hopes

I think, however, recent events have particularly demonstrated why such a turnaround is unlikely. The Tories look finished, fighting amongst themselves as if they had made a collective suicide pact. Where once they owned the narrative, now they seem hell-bent on worsening it.

Forget Rwanda for a moment, the Tory civil war which may resume in the New Year, what you think of the policy or the electoral implications. There is at least some basic logic behind it - to signal to would-be voters their intent to crack down on immigration. There is absolutely no positive spin to put on the story which usurped Rwanda this weekend - corrupt Covid contracts.

Mone trying to take Tories down with her

Apparently Baroness Michelle Mone is no longer a member of the Conservative Party. That won't end the association in public minds. What Mone and husband Doug Barrowman (a big Tory donor) hoped to achieve in making that documentary and arranging an interview with Laura Kuennsberg, is beyond me. It has been likened to the worst PR move since Prince Andrew's interview with Emily Maitlis.

The PPE scandal had already made the news, but hardly dominated it. In my experience, only the very-engaged discuss Michelle Mone. Now, it is everywhere and the ongoing fallout provides a gift to opponents, and satirists. It is no longer just about her PPE contracts, but her allegations about other peers, senior government officials and Rishi Sunak himself. She seems set on taking down Tories with her, and they seem happy to help.

Lord Bethell's bizarre intervention would have been too far fetched for The Thick of It or even Rudy Giuliani. Suddenly, a spate of long-forgotten Covid contract scandals are back in focus. Sunak and Johnson's missing WhatsApp messages look even less believable.

Covid corruption could touch public nerve

Remember why this Tory rot began - Owen Paterson's corruption, government attempts to rig the rules, and Partygate. That stuff did cut through, destroying trust in the government in even the most solidly Tory constituencies, and now it threatens to be the backdrop to what was already a horrible narrative during election year. A new, worse version of the MPs expenses scandal, but this time with all the heat on one party.

Tories were entitled to hope that Labour would crumble under scrutiny of their spending plans as usual. Now they can answer that question by promising to clawback some of the billions lost to Covid fraud. Unrealistic, perhaps, but an effective electoral weapon.

Strong shades of 1997, but worse

I remember 1997, when the Tories suffered their worst ever defeat. It was obviously coming and the press turned hard against them, revealing almost a scandal per day. Yet those scandals were small-fry by comparison, mostly sexual. Yes, they were bitterly divided as now, but the economy was booming. There was no equivalent right-wing alternative to ReformUK, eating into their disenchanted base.

All I see coming down the tracks is bad news for the Tories. Rising energy bills and mortgages, corruption scandals, anti-Tory tactical vote discussion and co-ordination, internal division and Nigel Farage stoking the flames. Falling inflation is no likelier to boost them than it has Joe Biden, because prices of essentials remain much higher.

It amounts to a much worse situation than 1997, and even the 165 seats they won at that election could prove a tall order. We may very well be looking at the end of the Tory party and, if so, Michelle Mone may be more than just a footnote in history, but a symbol of their demise.

Follow Paul on Twitter and check out his website, Political Gambler.


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