IIt has all the makings of political noir: a secret meeting in a Westminster pub where a Machiavellian operator filming for a would-be prime minister hands the opposition party a dossier of evidence to smear their rivals.
And like all the best Westminster rumors, it has a basis in truth. But the truth is perhaps even more unbelievable than the story. The reality is that several campaigns have contacted the Labor Party to spread rumors about their rivals.
Not everything is fully fleshed out – just tidbits sent on WhatsApp whose sources deserve further investigation. But it’s a sign of how bitter the race for the next Tory leader – and prime minister – has become so quickly.
The propaganda flying around includes garish rumors of affairs, deals and questionable tax statuses. Not all would pass the public interest test. Among those who have faced targeted attacks so far is Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi, but coordinated efforts to undermine Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss’ campaigns are also expected.
On Monday, an ally of the home secretary, Priti Patel, was forced to admit that he had shared a memo sent to Tory WhatsApp groups attacking Sunak’s economic record. Patrick Robertson denied authoring the document when confronted by the Times but admitted he shared it.
The memo gives a taste of the bitterness that will likely seep into the campaign against Sunak if he makes the final two. It accused Sunak of “a failed March 2022 budget that was a jumble of contradictions, tax hikes and sleight of hand that defied analysis, logic or understanding.”
The memo also said Sunak “lied publicly, not once, but twice when he tried to explain his wife’s tax status as ‘non-Dom’.” And it underscores the ex-Chancellor’s perceived opportunism, who said he “launched his campaign for Conservative Party leadership with a website domain registered in December 2021.”
“Getting ‘Ready for Rishi’ means supporting a candidate who, like Boris, has received a partygate fine from the police for breaking lockdown rules.”
Other candidates are also reeled by unsavory briefings on culture war issues. Penny Mordaunt, whose allies had informed her that she had one of the most organized and insurgent campaigns with a large number of supporters, has all but disappeared from view after coming under fire for her earlier vocal support for trans rights.
She was forced to issue a multi-tweet thread She denied she was “woke” and insisted she had previously “challenged transorthodoxy,” but was then again undermined by rivals, including Suella Braverman, who said she had the use of gender-neutral language in one supported bill.
Senior Labor leaders cannot believe their luck where the dividing lines have been drawn. The party is most vulnerable on culture war issues – largely due to public belief that the party is too obsessed with identity politics – and on the economy, where focus groups show voters lack confidence in Labor on spending.
“Holding a conservative leadership contest where candidates are at odds with culture wars rather than the cost of living makes them seem disconnected — plus you have candidates paying absolutely ridiculous taxes and making promises, including extra money for big corporations.” , Labor advisers said. “It couldn’t be better when it comes to our electoral weaknesses.”