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Good morning. Gloom about the party’s prospects at the next election has many Tories thinking not about how to beat Keir Starmer, but how to reshape the Conservative party afterwards. Robert Shrimsley’s column this week sets out the direction of travel. Some more thoughts on that below.

Inside Politics is edited by Georgina Quach. Follow Stephen on X @stephenkb and please send gossip, thoughts and feedback to

New right in old bottles

Rishi Sunak woke up this morning to a scoop from the Guardian’s Pippa Crerar revealing that he blocked plans to rebuild five hospitals riddled with unsafe aerated concrete. Plus, in a damaging blow to his internal position, this week’s Spectator cover story by Boris Johnson criticises the west generally, and the UK in particular, for failing to give Ukraine the weapons it needs to defeat Vladimir Putin’s invasion.

“Sunak remains bullish about his chances of defying the sceptics”, write Lucy Fisher and George Parker in this week’s FT Weekend magazine feature on the prime minister and his allies’ belief he can stay in power.

But these stories of mismanagement — along with the running sore that is the Chinese spy allegations — deepen the general mood within the Conservative party and much of the press that Sunak’s government is drifting and doomed. It means that the party’s focus turns to what it wants to do after defeat and after Sunak.

What will the Conservative party look like after he leaves? “Smaller” is one answer, but Robert Shrimsley has a better, less facetious take in his column (emphasis mine):

At their core is an anti-establishment ethos which sees the future of conservatism no longer as the defenders of the existing order but as Brexit radicals, scourge of the elites and globalists, the voice of a mythical middle England, the non-graduate rather than the graduate, the suburbs and towns over city dwellers. For many, this is the only logical destination for their new electoral coalition. The groupings waiting to swoop all want to exploit rather than heal the divisions exposed by Brexit.

The New (or “national”) Conservatives fight for traditional values, reduced immigration and a nativist self-sufficiency. Free-market Trussite Tories dream of low tax, a smaller state and deregulation. Conflict between the more interventionist “New Conservatives” and the small-staters who are also less socially conservative means there is no coherent economic model.

That last line is the key point, I think. The Conservative party doesn’t, at the moment, have an economic model that it agrees on or can cohere around. In fact, the need to have any form of economic policy is a bit of a pain all round. Freed from the strains of office, the Conservatives won’t need to worry about balancing the electoral pull of promising reductions in immigration with the policy consequences of having to put much, much, much more money into social care and putting fresh inflationary pressure into the British economy. The party’s desire for tax cuts will no longer have to reconcile itself with the party’s fear of implementing further tax cuts.

Now, the card that the party’s centre-right usually likes to play in leadership elections is “yeah, sure you might disagree with me about a bunch of things, but I can win”, while the right just goes with “I’ll let us be the party we really want to be”.

I don’t think that the “I can win” card is going to be very powerful in the next Tory leadership race for two reasons.

First, unless something very big changes, I increasingly think the Conservative party is heading for a very painful defeat at the next election. The worse a party’s position looks, the harder it is for the “never mind my heresies, I can win” candidate to convince the party to back them. Second, paradoxically, is that the Labour government will come into office at such a difficult time that I think many Tories will think they can make Keir Starmer a one-term prime minister with any candidate. As such, in the short term, the post-Sunak Conservative party belongs to the right.

Now try this

I have been watching Ahsoka because, I have to admit, if Disney stuck Star Wars branding on “watching paint dry” I would at least try the first episode. The fifth episode is a marked improvement, perhaps because for the first time we have some sense of the characters’ inner lives, or perhaps because I have Stockholm syndrome. For a fun look at Disney’s woes, try the Unhedged podcast.

The most exhilarating event in the fashion calendar returns to London today. Get exclusive analysis of how the collections in the upcoming Fashion Weeks may shape the future of a $2.5tn industry in Fashion Matters, the multi-award-winning newsletter from Lauren Indvik, the FT’s fashion editor and former founding editor-in-chief of Vogue Business. Subscribers can sign up here to get it each Thursday.

Top stories today

  • Starmer would treat people smugglers like terrorists | Labour would seek an EU-wide agreement with Brussels on the return of migrants to try to tackle cross-Channel clandestine migration, party leader Keir Starmer said yesterday.

  • Lords vote against Sunak’s plan | Proposals by the government to dilute rules on water pollution in order to enable more housebuilding were defeated in the House of Lords last night.

  • ‘We are finding this everywhere’ | Dozens of local authorities in the UK could be hit by equal pay claims after failing to end discriminatory practices against women, according to the GMB union, which launched a campaign yesterday on behalf of up to 1,000 female care workers in Sunderland.

  • The end of the line? | The Independent’s Jon Stone reports that Rishi Sunak and Jeremy Hunt are in discussions about scrapping the second stage of the HS2 rail project as costs spiral amid severe delays. A cost estimate, seen by the newspaper, reveals that the government has already spent £2.3bn on stage two of the high-speed railway from Birmingham to Manchester, but shelving the northern phase would save up to £34bn.

  • Sara Sharif | The father, stepmother and uncle of 10-year-old Sara Sharif, who was found dead at her home in a Surrey village last month, have been arrested on suspicion of murder following their return to the UK from Pakistan, the Guardian reported.

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