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There is unlikely to be a glowing display of fraternal love when Rishi Sunak joins Boris Johnson on Remembrance Sunday to pay their respects to the fallen at the Cenotaph with other prime ministers of the past.
With the Conservatives struggling in the polls just one year from a general election, the party appears to be forming a “circular firing squad” in the words of one serving minister.
“The party is suffering from Long Boris,” added David Gauke, a former Tory cabinet minister. “It lacks cohesion and discipline.”
Just over a year ago, as he became Britain’s youngest prime minister for 200 years, Sunak declared the Conservatives needed to “unite or die”.
But a new book published on Friday by former culture secretary Nadine Dorries is a clear sign there is little unity inside Britain’s ruling party.
The tome has been dubbed “the single weirdest book I have ever read” by one newspaper critic. In it, Dorries proves her reputation as a staunch Johnson loyalist with effusive praise for the former Tory leader.
Other former colleagues receive scathing treatment. Former chief of staff Dominic Cummings was a “psychopath”, ex-chancellor Sajid Javid was “monotone”, civil service chief Simon Case was a “snake”, and deputy prime minister Oliver Dowden “a man of little talent”, Dorries wrote.
Nor did Johnson himself hold back when interviewed by Dorries for her book: The Plot: The Political Assassination of Boris Johnson.
He claimed the Tory party was “drifting into defeat” under the current leader, saying Sunak’s leadership needed a “massive kick in the pants”: “We are losing the plot,” he seethed.
Sunak’s resignation as chancellor in the summer of 2022 prompted the rebellion that forced Johnson out of office.
In Johnson’s words, Sunak is a “stooge” inserted into Number 10 by Cummings, his mercurial former chief of staff who he sacked in late 2020.
It was under Liz Truss, Johnson’s immediate — and shortlived — successor, that the Conservative party’s popularity imploded. But even under Sunak the Tories are still about 19 points behind Labour in the polls.
The next election must take place by January 2025 and many expect Sunak to call it in the autumn of 2024. Tory MPs are getting jittery at the short time the party has to turn around its prospects.
The febrile atmosphere has not been helped by further revelations this week from the Covid-19 inquiry that the UK’s most senior civil servant was scathing during the pandemic about the most senior politician.
In WhatsApp messages from 2020, cabinet secretary Case accused then chancellor Sunak of “totally outrageous” behaviour for criticising a failure to fully enforce Covid rules after allegedly blocking moves to give the police further powers to do so.
Case also suggested Johnson was unable to “retain the tiniest shred of information”. Matt Hancock, the then health secretary, was meanwhile “drowning in bullshit” and was “so far up [Johnson’s] arse his ankles are brown”, the man who heads the UK’s civil service said.
Case himself takes flak in the Dorries book, where he is described as inexperienced, humourless and lacking emotional intelligence. “It was hard to find a civil servant who had a civil word about him,” she wrote. “Words they used to describe him covered everything from liar to snake.”
Dorries, no stranger to self-promotion, has described The Plot as “the most legalled book since Spycatcher, the memoir of a former MI5 officer.
Others have been less generous. The Times’ reviewer declared: “This really is the single weirdest book I have ever read, and anyone who does not reach the same conclusion after reading it should be sectioned.”
The Telegraph called it “illogical, lacking in motive and overheated, like a dream recollected on waking”.
Critics have questioned how much of the book is factual and how much of it has benefited from Dorries’ talents as a successful fiction writer.
The book features claims about a shadowy all-powerful political puppet master dubbed “Dr No”, who allegedly once had an ex-girlfriend’s pet rabbit chopped into four and nailed it to the front door of the family home.
“Rishi Sunak doesn’t move without ﬁrst seeking his advice,” she claimed. Sunak has not responded to the claims.
Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University, said Dorries’ book was “tragicomic” and that its main takeaway for the general public was that many senior Tories seemed to hate each other.
Combined with the damaging Covid revelations, Bale added, “it just makes the party look like an absolute shower”.
One minister echoed the sentiment: “We just can’t help forming a circular firing squad, it seems like we don’t go a day without slagging each other off. God knows what the electorate make of this stuff.”