Conservatives have ‘great opportunity’ despite local election losses and infighting, says Shapps

Politics

The Tories have a “great opportunity” with a mood of “steely determination”, cabinet minister Grant Shapps has told Sky News, despite a local election drubbing and party infighting.

Speaking on the Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme, the energy secretary also said he “completely and fundamentally” disagreed that the Conservatives cannot come back and win.

Former cabinet minister Jacob Rees-Mogg also played down the recent council losses and said local elections results were often bad for the incumbent government, arguing people should “not read too much” into them.

Meanwhile, Labour has branded the ruling party as “demoralised” and “full of internal conflicts and battles”.

It comes after former home secretary Priti Patel led criticism of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at a conference over the weekend, blaming the “centre of the party” for the recent local elections defeats.

She said the Tories “would not have seen over 1,000 of our friends and colleagues lose their seats” if centrists had “spent more time with us, listening, engaging”.

Anger at the council losses has been further fuelled by the decision to scale back post-Brexit plans to scrap EU laws.

Pressed over the feeling in the party over its current woes, Mr Shapps said: “Of course we have a great opportunity because we know that we’re buzzing with ideas, we’ve got a lot of energy to get things done still, but of course there are many, many challenges facing the country – and by the way they’d be facing whoever, whomever was in power at this point in time.

“I think we’ve got the ideas, but also the practical solutions – not to say, there aren’t many challenges along the way.

“I think that the mood is one of steely determination, I think… we know that there’s a job to do, that we’re on the side of the British people.”

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Tory election losses ‘moment of reflection’

Brushing aside criticism levelled by Ms Patel, Mr Shapps said: “I simply don’t agree… we still have more councillors in place than they [Labour’s Blair/Brown] would have done during the same point of the electoral cycle.

“So this idea that there’s something written in the stars, that somehow we cannot come back and win from our particular position at the moment, I completely and fundamentally disagree with.

“Actually people realise this country has gone through some pretty difficult times and of course we won’t have got everything right, but we have managed to steer the country through it, roll out vaccines or provide up to half of people’s typical energy bill this winter… Rishi Sunak actually has stabilised the party.”

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Conservatives seem ‘demoralised’

Mr Rees-Mogg said: “It’s obviously difficult when a party has been in office for 13 years, but Rishi Sunak has been getting on with business.

“Local election results are often bad for incumbent governments.

“They were bad for Tony Blair and he then went on to win majorities. They were terrible for Margaret Thatcher, who then went on to win very big majorities.

“So I wouldn’t read too much into local elections.”

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Is this a new dawn for Labour?

He also said it was a mistake to get rid of Mr Johnson, but deposing Mr Sunak would be an “even bigger mistake”.

Mr Rees-Mogg said: “The Tory party would be toast if we change leader again… but that doesn’t mean we agree with him on every policy.”

Labour frontbencher Jonathan Reynolds told Ridge: “I am not an objective observer of the Conservative Party, but I think it seems quite demoralised and as ever, you know, full of internal conflicts and battles.

“I look at Conservative MPs and I think to be honest, many of them are looking perhaps to a post-election period in the succession and who might take over. But look, we can’t be distracted by that.”

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He added: “The scale of the challenge therefore for Labour, it’s not just turning around an economy that hasn’t functioned very well for 13 years, it’s the complete reform and delivery of public services in a way where the need, the scale, of that, I don’t think has ever been greater.

“What we saw in those local elections was the Conservative Party rejected and people choosing Labour over the Conservatives, but we know we’ve got more to do.

“None of us are complacent, we’ve got to get that message across of our ambition, of the hope, we want to deliver back to the country, and why these specific policies that we’ve got deserve a hearing and that they are the answers to the problems.

“We know we’ve got more to do, but I don’t accept the case that we’re not putting forward specific policies.”

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