Marr: If Sunak is moving the Tories to the centre ground, that's going to put the willies up right-wing Conservatives

28 February 2023, 18:11

Andrew Marr questions how the PM will use the momentum after NI deal

By Will Taylor

Andrew Marr has questioned whether Rishi Sunak will use his Brexit deal to put a "real stamp" on his leadership and move the Conservative party to the centre ground ahead of the next election.

Listen to this article

Loading audio...

He spoke after Mr Sunak said Northern Ireland would enjoy the benefits of being a bridge to both Britain's domestic market and the EU, given how some rules will still apply in the province.

Speaking at the start of Tuesday's Tonight with Andrew Marr, LBC's host said Mr Sunak's Downing Street might be closer to Tony Blair and Sir Keir Starmer than past Tory leaders' - but that could put the "willies" up right-wing Tories.

"It's been an interesting day. I woke up this morning with a question rattling around my head and by early afternoon I was beginning to get an answer," Andrew said.

"The question was this: after his big win with the EU and Northern Ireland yesterday, would Rishi Sunak use this rare opportunity to try to move his party ahead in other ways?

Read more: Watch Tonight with Andrew Marr exclusively on Global Player every Monday to Thursday from 6pm to 7pm

"To put a real stamp on his leadership? Well, the day started off with a good example of why politicians should try never to let the blood rush to their heads when they're feeling all strong and vindicated.

"I'm sure you’ve spotted the point already. Rishi was inflamed by excitement over the brilliance of an arrangement that, of course, the whole UK had - before the Brexit campaign he himself was so keen on.

"Would it be cruel to remind you of the great quote by Benjamin Disraeli about his deadly rival Gladstone who, he once complained, had been "inebriated by the exuberance of his own verbosity".

"But it really has been Sunak's moment. He landed a deal with the EU very few people thought he could pull off and which at times we all thought would cause a massive revolt against him.

"So back to my first question: What's he going to do with all this momentum? Well, on Thursday this week he is gathering together most Tory MPs for a giant strategy and election (how to win it) gathering at a plush hotel in Windsor.

"Today, the right-leaning think tank Onward, which has become highly influential in Rishi Sunak’s Downing Street, held a meeting about the future of conservatism at which Michael Gove was the main speaker.

"His theme was that the Tories needed a new economic strategy, and a stronger focus on inequality, alongside defending traditional values.

"The pandemic, he said, and the war had reminded us of the importance of a resilient national community: it was all very strong centre and one nation - Disraeli, you might say, in the Tik Tok age.

You can also listen to the podcast Tonight with Andrew Marr only on Global Player.

"Apart from some ritual leftie-bashing, I thought there was very little in it that Tony Blair or Keir Starmer wouldn't quietly agree with… and come to think of it, I'm not sure even about the ritual leftie-bashing.

"Anyway, Michael Gove [questioned] the true value of the City of London and its freewheeling financial merry go round, which has been likened to Britain being a butler to the world's super rich.

"Personally I think that is well put and the kind of thing Tories don't talk about often enough. But that, and the friendlier attitude to the EU from the Prime Minister, puts the willies up some more right wing Conservatives, who fear Sunak is gently moving the party to the centre ground ahead of the election.

"I spoke to one former senior cabinet minister who hadn't been invited to the think-in at Windsor and he told me: 'The party is split. There are those of us who want to cut taxes and have a small state and then there are the… others.'

"The ones going to this meeting I asked? 'Yes,' he said, 'the… social democrats'. He didn't make it seem like a compliment. I don't want to overdo this but it does seem that something pretty interesting is going on inside the Conservative Party as it confronts the relatively small amount of time left before it faces Labour at a general election."