Grant Shapps admits Tories ‘unlikely’ to win election as Sunak urged to ‘go for jugular’ on Starmer

Grant Shapps has admitted the Conservatives are unlikely to win the general election, saying he is a realist and pleading with voters to help prevent a massive Labour majority instead.

The defence secretary said he would not “pretend black is white” by claiming Rishi Sunak is on course to remain prime minister, adding it is “not the most likely outcome”.

And while he said a Tory win is still possible, he said he lives “in the real world” and warned of “the dangers of Labour” if Sir Keir Starmer enters Downing Street with what he called a supermajority.

Grant Shapps said he ‘lives in the real world’ (PA Wire)
Grant Shapps said he ‘lives in the real world’ (PA Wire)

Mr Sunak meanwhile is being urged to “go for the jugular” and launch more direct personal attacks against Sir Keir to turn round the Tories’ faltering campaign.

The prime minister has been warned he has not focused enough on the Labour leader and he needs to go after Sir Keir’s record. With the Conservatives still more than 20 points behind Labour in the polls, cabinet ministers have called for a change in direction and questioned whether the PM is comfortable enough launching personal attacks against his opponents.

They are now focused on damage limitation, with Tory sources hoping the party can hold onto 140 or more seats – which would still see Sir Keir become PM with a significant majority.

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Asked on Times Radio if a Tory victory was unlikely, Mr Shapps said: “I think that’s the realistic position, isn’t it? I mean, I live in the real world. So you know, let’s not try and pretend black is white.”

But he insisted: “We’re still fighting for absolutely every single vote, which is absolutely the right thing to do, and warning of the dangers of Labour.”

Penny Mordaunt said the election is not a foregone conclusion (AFP/Getty)
Penny Mordaunt said the election is not a foregone conclusion (AFP/Getty)

His intervention came after Penny Mordaunt, seen as a leadership contender if Mr Sunak stepped down after the election, painted the Conservative Party as the underdog in the election campaign. In an interview with The Independent, Ms Mordaunt said: “There are lots of pundits, and some politicians, saying it’s all a foregone conclusion. Of course it’s not. It’s going to come down to what people do with their votes – and I’m fighting for my city, and I’m going to carry on fighting until the polls shut.”

Mr Sunak on Monday insisted the Conservatives are “on the right track”, despite Mr Shapps’s comments.

Speaking from Centrica’s Rough 47-3B gas rig, the PM said: “There’s still two and a half weeks to go in this election, I’m fighting hard for every vote because I believe we can win.

“And there’s a very clear choice at this election: it’s having your taxes cut by the Conservatives or facing significant tax rises with the Labour Party.”

But, speaking to The Times, cabinet figures called for Mr Sunak to go after Sir Keir’s work as a human rights lawyer, his support for ex-Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and his calls for a second Brexit referendum.

One said: “Rishi is a really nice and deeply honourable guy. I’m not sure whether he’s uncomfortable instinctively with the personalised attacks but it has been more generalised so far.

“He will sign a deal with the French, he will undo Brexit, he will rip apart our institutions. The guy’s a socialist, and there’s a real chance people will give him a free rein if they back Reform.”

Another said: “He needs to make it personal. I think he was very badly affected by D-Day but he needs to go after Starmer now ... I don’t think there are any other options left.”

Mr Sunak returned to the campaign trail on Monday (PA Wire)
Mr Sunak returned to the campaign trail on Monday (PA Wire)

The minister was referring to Mr Sunak’s disastrous decision to leave early during commemorations for the 80th anniversary of the Allied landings.

Another senior Tory told The Times: “Rishi needs to go for the jugular. His natural instincts are not to go for the jugular. That can be useful. But it’s not useful when you’re in a fight to the death. The question is whether the Tories will end up with closer to 100 seats or closer to 200.”

An ally of the PM pointed to his attacks on Sir Keir during the first head-to-head debate on ITV in which Mr Sunak referenced the Labour leader’s past work as a defence lawyer on behalf of radical cleric Abu Qatada.

Another perceived weakness among Tories is Sir Keir’s past support for Mr Corbyn, which saw him come unstuck during a grilling by Sky News presenter Beth Rigby.

Under repeated questioning, Sir Keir said he only campaigned for a Labour win in 2019 because he wanted good Labour MPs to keep their seats and was “certain we would lose”.

Labour Party leader Keir Starmer’s previous support for Jeremy Corbyn is seen as a weakness by some Tories (PA Wire)
Labour Party leader Keir Starmer’s previous support for Jeremy Corbyn is seen as a weakness by some Tories (PA Wire)

Labour has promised not to rejoin the EU single market if it wins the election.

Asked about calls for Mr Sunak to “go for the jugular”, Mr Shapps told Sky News: “It is right that we highlight the risks of an unchecked Labour majority … because people need to know what they would be getting which is a heck of a lot more tax to pay in every direction.”

He stressed that the Conservatives are the underdogs at the election but claimed “I still think we can do it”. Mr Shapps added: “I really think it’s important to warn people that voting any other way apart from Conservative guarantees a Labour-Starmer government.

“Now, if that’s what you want, then fine. But, actually, if you don’t relish the idea of Starmer coming in, raising your taxes, having no plan for illegal migration … voting any other way than Conservative would be dangerous because it would allow Starmer a blank cheque to do those things and many other things besides.”