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Tory party is nowhere near ‘peak retirement’

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I’m a Celebrity*, Get Me Out of Here! contestant Matt Hancock will stand down as MP for West Suffolk at the next election, joining more than a dozen Conservative MPs who have recently announced their departures. Today I tackle one of your questions: just who, exactly, are the people eyeing up all these vacant Tory seats?

*Inflation is everywhere in the UK, what can I say?

Jumping before he’s putsched?

Matt Hancock has become the latest Conservative MP to announce his intention to leave parliament, though, as Kate Maltby reveals over at the i, that may have had something to do with the fact his own local party was beginning to move against him. Terry Wood, president of the West Suffolk Conservative Association, had written to the chief whip Simon Hart, requesting that Hancock be kept out of the party.

It underlines a point that Katy Balls made well in her i column on Sajid Javid’s departure: just because CCHQ had set this arbitrary deadline (December 5) for Tory MPs to announce if they will stand down at the next election, it doesn’t mean we have seen all, or even a majority of retirement announcements.

In fact, I think it’s safe to say that we are nowhere near “peak retirement”. As one Conservative MP put to me recently, if, come election time, the polls haven’t turned and they decide they simply aren’t going to bother running next time, what will the Tory leadership do? Remove the party whip so they can’t stand as a Conservative MP?

If Rishi Sunak can turn around the government’s polling position, then there will be fewer retirements, yes. But in any case we would expect MPs who have held ministerial rank but do not have a good chance of doing so again (such as one Matt Hancock) to be stepping down, just as we would expect MPs in very vulnerable marginals to stand down.

Whatever happens, the Conservative parliamentary party is going to look very different after the next election. That may well mean that the party becomes easier to manage simply because the new intake will be very large and have less direct experience of mutiny and rebellion.

Who exactly are these new MPs likely to be? The Tory party hasn’t really selected a great number of candidates as of yet. Michael Crick’s revealing Twitter project, Tomorrow’s MPs, reveals that they have selected just seven candidates in “winnable” seats. Even then, that is for a very wide definition of “winnable”: yes, the Conservatives are near-certain to retake by-election losses like North Shropshire, but there is no prospect of them winning back seats they lost to the Liberal Democrats in 2017, like Bath, Twickenham or Oxford West and Abingdon, and even 2019 gains such as St Albans look very unlikely to go blue again anytime soon.

But thus far the new candidates — and the ones I speak to who are planning to go for selection elsewhere — are a pretty broad cross-section of the Conservative party as a whole.

Essentially every Tory I speak to expects that when Sunak goes, the party will swing sharply to the right. Still, would-be-MPs from the party’s middle and leftmost flanks aren’t yet giving their selection a miss. They believe instead that becoming an MP for a newly-defeated political party is, at least, a good way to get in at the ground floor, or that fighting a marginal you are certain to lose is also a decent way to make your entry into politics.

Now try this

Given I love food and cinema, I absolutely adored The Menu, a black comedy about a high-end chef whose exclusive restaurant becomes a place of tension and fear.

It’s a well-judged piece of comedy horror — there is a little light gore in a handful of scenes but if you don’t particularly care for jump scares or being frightened at the movies, there is nothing to put you off your sleep. It delivered the funny satire of the elite that Triangle of Sadness had promised, but overall failed to deliver.

Whet your appetite with Leslie Felperin’s review here.

Top stories today

  • Whitty targets air quality | England’s chief medical officer is to lead a new drive to reduce air pollution, with an emphasis on indoor and agricultural emissions that remain stubbornly high while pollutants as a whole have fallen.

  • Sunak’s army | Rishi Sunak is working on “new tough laws” to limit the impact of strikes, as Border Force staff prepared to join a wave of industrial action at airports including Heathrow and Gatwick. Airport executives said the level of disruption would depend on whether the Home Office was able to deploy back-up staff and army personnel to replace striking immigration officers.

  • Senior Tory MP suspended | The Conservatives have removed the whip from Julian Knight after a complaint was made to the Metropolitan police, the Guardian reports.

  • Reeves unveils business boost | A Labour government would set up a state-backed group to support small businesses by linking up institutional investors and venture capital firms, shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves will announce today.

  • World Service warns of cuts | The head of the BBC has warned that the corporation’s World Service will make further cuts unless the UK government provides urgent funding, as he noted Russia and China’s willingness to outspend Britain on international broadcasting.

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

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