Zahawi warns ‘delay is our biggest enemy’ as he urges Tory unity

A senior Conservative MP said the mood in the party is ‘febrile’.

09 October 2022

Cabinet minister Nadhim Zahawi has warned “delay is our biggest enemy” as he sought to quell disquiet in Tory ranks after a tumultuous week for the party.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said colleagues must “focus” on delivering for the country, as any “dither” will “end in defeat” for the Conservatives.

But tensions were still running high on Sunday, as a senior Tory MP warned the current mood in the party is “febrile”, with many backbenchers – and indeed members of the Government -“very concerned at where we are in the polls”.

It comes after Mr Zahawi, along with three other Cabinet ministers, wrote articles for Sunday papers calling on Conservatives to rally behind Liz Truss as the Prime Minister battles to steady the ship following an annual party conference blighted by infighting.

Liz Truss at Prague summit
Prime Minister Liz Truss (Alistair Grant/PA)

A No 10 source said the “cold, hard reality” is the party must “get behind Liz” or wind up with a “monstrous coalition of Labour and the SNP”, amid deep division in Tory ranks – with flashpoints including welfare and the environment.

Mr Zahawi used a round of broadcast interviews on Sunday to call for the party to unite or risk sacrificing the keys to No 10 to Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer.

Speaking to Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme, presented by Trevor Phillips, he said: “We’ve got two years to demonstrate to the nation that we can deliver.

“I want my colleagues to obviously focus, because any dither or delay will end in defeat.”

He said attention should be directed towards “delivery” and “policy” rather than personal attacks, after Michael Gove was branded “sadistic” by a source in a newspaper article.

Behind the scenes, bitter anonymous briefings are rife – with one report harbouring the particularly harsh words for Mr Gove after he helped force Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng’s humiliating U-turn on tax at the party’s conference in Birmingham.

Truss and Kwarteng
Prime Minister Liz Truss and Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Nadine Dorries, who has been critical of the Government’s current trajectory, also urged support for the Prime Minister, as she said she is “still one of Liz’s biggest supporters”.

But she suggested Ms Truss should look at “nuancing the policies and the mandate that she’s taking forward in a slightly different way”.

“The fact is that just after a leadership election, and at the start of a new administration, what we don’t need is a disrupter, what we need is a unifier,” she told the BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg programme.

“And I think probably that the new Prime Minister has realised that over the last few weeks.”

Meanwhile, senior Tory Mel Stride said it is “fairly febrile” being a Conservative MP at the moment, as he argued there have been “too many missteps” by the new Government.

“There are a lot of backbenchers and indeed members of the Government who are very concerned at where we are in the polls,” he told Times Radio.

“We’ve got two years to a general election. There’s a recognition that we’ve got to turn things around and start doing it very quickly. I think most people do, as I do, see the economy as being right at the heart of that… and that there have been too many missteps.”

Mel Stride
Chairman of the Treasury Select Committee Mel Stride (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

In addition to “the policy and the economics”, the chairman of the Treasury Select Committee pointed to “the management of the parliamentary party”.

“Now the… Prime Minister decided to, after she won that contest, to form a Government which was predominantly made up of those that were strong supporters of her personally – and that’s fine, and I have no problem with that,” he said.

“But I think there was a shortfall when it came to reaching out right across the party, and I think you’re probably seeing some of the consequences of that now that things are getting a bit tougher.”

Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary Jonathan Ashworth warned the UK is in a “perilous moment” because of decisions taken by Ms Truss and Mr Kwarteng.

He dismissed claims that a Labour government would be “propped up” by the SNP, branding the suggestion “complete and utter nonsense and desperate”.

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