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War party

As Defence Secretary, Grant Shapps could be expected to know a thing or two about military realities. Perhaps this is why he appeared to concede defeat in the General Election, describing a Tory victory as “unlikely.” As rallying cries go, it wasn’t exactly “we shall fight them on the beaches” from General Shapps.

The Conservative campaign is now saying publicly what they’ve long known privately; that Labour is on course to win – and win big. Defeat is one thing, but to have a once mighty army reduced to just a handful of troops while a victorious enemy parades through conquered territory would be the ultimate humiliation. Indeed, the Conservatives may have so few MPs left that His Majesty’s Loyal Opposition might resemble more a scrapy band of resistance fighters.

But who would lead such an outfit? Mr Doom and Gloom himself, Grant Shapps, is apparently positioning himself as an “energetic unifier” but the polls suggest he’ll be a casualty of Labour’s ground war. Robert Jenrick, one of the less subtle MPs on maneuvers, is facing a similar battle in his seat – as is the toast of the Navy’s officer class, Penny Mordaunt. That leaves James Cleverly, Tom Tugendhat, Kemi Badenoch, and Priti Patel free to plan their next moves, relatively safe in the knowledge that their voter base should hold off Labour’s advance. But a huge amount remains uncertain, and unknowable.

Tory MPs jostling for the leadership don’t even know which of their current colleagues will still be standing after July 4th, and the party membership – that body of activists that backed Boris Johnson and Liz Truss – is an unpredictable lot. Will they seek a right-wing figure, someone who could do business with Nigel Farage? Or might they succumb to one of their occasional bursts of pragmatism, as was on display when they picked the fresh-faced ‘change’ candidate of David Cameron? In other words, might we see a hitherto unacknowledged or underappreciated candidate rise from the ashes? And will they lead a band of 150 MPs, or 80?

The nature of the opposition matters, as does its calibre and effectiveness. If Keir Starmer stands up as Prime Minister with a majority north of 200, he will have achieved a kind of parliamentary imperium. Against such odds, the vital work of challenge and scrutiny will be difficult and thankless. At the same time, any new Tory leader will have to start out on a long road to recovery, devoid of hundreds of councilors, wary of Farge, battered by defeat and exhausted after 14 years of government – with the latter years characterised by civil war and strife.

The travails of the Tory party would be merely an entertaining sideshow as far as Labour is concerned. There’s no reason to disbelieve Starmer when he says he wants to change the country, and if the polls are correct, he’ll have not just the mandate but the muscle to do so.

One of the most senior political journalists in the country tells us that “the Tories really are facing an absolute catastrophe,” adding, for good measure “they’re f**ked.” If that turns out to be true, one of the few Conservatives left standing will have to pick up the fallen banners, gather the surviving troops and march them into one of the most frustrating, thankless, and dispiriting voids of British politics: the Opposition trenches.

If you’d like to speak to Hawthorn about our Political Advisory offering, please email Mark Burr at

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