Deputy PM and Justice Secretary, Dominic Raab today tendered his resignation to the PM. The decision comes after Sunak spent yesterday afternoon and evening pondering the findings of Tolley’s report, which collated bullying claims made by Ministry of Justice civil servants first lodged in November last year. Allegations in question related to Raab’s tendency to ‘bully and belittle staff’, ‘driving some to tears or causing them to vomit before meetings.’
We are two weeks out from the local elections, so naturally Labour heavyweights such as Sir Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner have come out today to argue that the delay in the PM’s decision on whether to sack Raab shows a lack of strength and fortitude. Raab, showing little contrition said in his resignation letter that “the inquiry sets a dangerous precedent that will paralyse the ability of ministers to deliver for the British people.”
All of this makes Raab’s political position rather weak, with the Liberal Democrats calling for a by-election (which is not overly plausible). Although Sunak has somewhat improved Conservative fortunes in opinion polling, reducing the Labour lead to 10-15 points, the last thing that the Government needs right now is a by-election that would guarantee the Lib Dems a gain in Esher and Walton where Raab’s majority is a meagre 2,500. The PM on the other hand, is likely to come out unscathed by all of this.
Into Raab’s shoes hops Alex Chalk, MP for Cheltenham and a now former defence Minister. James Cartlidge, MP for South Suffolk takes Alex Chalk’s place as Minister of State in the Ministry of Defence. Gareth Davies, MP for Grantham and Stamford steps up to Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury and Oliver Dowden expands his role to Deputy Prime Minister.
Today’s resignation comes on the day that early voting ballots are dropping in Conservative home counties ahead of the local elections on Thursday 4th May. We entered the standard ‘expectation management’ stage of the local elections campaign this week, with Tory Chairman Grag Hands saying that the party expects to lose approximately 1,000 seats. This is obviously a technique designed to make any better result than that seem like a success - as Electoral Calculus estimates the Tories could lose as few as 250 seats.
Despite national polls narrowing throughout Sunak’s premiership so far, many in Labour are not yet buying into the narrative that the shift has been significant enough so as to dampen their electoral chances in May. Of the upcoming slate of local elections contests, Labour has substantial confidence in its chances in North Warwickshire, Amber Valley, Tees, North Somerset, East Staffordshire and Bournemouth. No doubt that Sunak’s Conservatives are likely to throw the kitchen sink at this cycle, given its importance for setting the tone in Government in the run-up to the general election next year.