'Drip feed of bad news': Pincher's resignation is another political headache for the PM

Former deputy chief whip Chris Pincher Credit: PA

The prospect of yet another by-election is a political headache for the prime minister. 

Constituents in the Staffordshire seat of Tamworth will soon vote for their next MP, after former deputy chief whip Chris Pincher on Thursday announced he was stepping down.  

Mr Pincher’s resignation follows a bruising week for Rishi Sunak. 

As MPs returned from summer recess and the government sought to outline its political agenda for the autumn, the PM faced criticism over handling of the Raac crisis in schools, hospitals and other public sector buildings

Sunak was forced to defend his own record as chancellor, after a former senior civil servant accused him failing to fund a school repair programme.

All while his education secretary Gillian Keegan had to apologise after swearing on camera as she argued others had failed to tackle the issue.  

Chris Pincher’s announcement follows a bruising week for Rishi Sunak.  Credit: PA

And ministers narrowly avoided a rebellion with Tory MPs over onshore wind, as internal tensions over the party’s direction on the environment continues.   

The government is already braced for an October by-election in Mid Bedfordshire, a seat currently represented by former culture secretary Nadine Dorries.  

Another by-election will also take place in the Scottish seat of Rutherglen and Hamilton West, currently held by independent MP Margaret Ferrier who represented the SNP until she was disciplined by the party for breaching coronavirus rules in 2020.  

Both Tamworth and Mid Bedfordshire are regarded as Tory safe seats and holding onto them will be a key priority for the Conservative Party. 

In the 2019 general election, Ms Dorries won her seat by just under 25,000 votes while Mr Pincher won his by 19,634.  

ITV News political reporter Jasmine Cameron-Chileshe explains what this could mean for the PM

Despite the large majorities, Sunak admitted today that fighting both elections will be an uphill battle.

"Mid-term by-elections are always difficult for incumbent governments, and these will be no different, but we're going to keep working hard to deliver for the British people," he said. 

This sentiment was echoed by some Tory MPs I spoke with today who worry that a summer of negative headlines for the government – on issues ranging from the failure to house migrants on the Bibby Stockholm barge to record NHS waiting times – will see voters turn away from the party in upcoming by-elections, even in traditional safe seats.  

“This is a local election but will be a national vote as by-elections always are,” argued one former Conservative minister.

“These elections are usually seen as a safe way to give the government in power a kicking.” 

“There’s a really sense that people want us to get a grip,” another senior backbencher said. “The drip feed of bad news isn’t helping”.  

In the July by-elections, the Conservatives lost their North Yorkshire seat of Selby and Ainsty to Labour and Somerton and Frome in the South West to the Liberal Democrats.  

But the party narrowly held onto their London seat of Uxbridge and South Ruislip by a small majority of just 495, largely due to campaigning against the expansion of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) in outer London.  

According to the latest YouGov polling, the Labour party has a 20-point lead but some Tory MPs argue that by tapping into key policy concerns of voters, the party can improve its polling and public perception.  

In January of this year, the prime minister outlined his five priorities for the country, which include halving inflation by December, legislating to prevent small boat crossings on the English Channel, and reducing NHS waiting lists.  

“People welcome the relative stability that has come with Rishi Sunak’s premiership,” one senior Tory argued. 

“But ultimately, we will win or lose on based solely on whether we can deliver on these five promises.” 

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