Minister Steve Baker admits Tory campaign going ‘badly’ and polls are ‘worrying’

The Northern Ireland minister also described the state of the Conservative Party as a ‘mess’.

Tory minister Steve Baker has admitted the party’s election campaign has gone “badly” and that its double-digit poll deficit is “extremely worrying”.

The Northern Ireland minister also said he recognised “things have gone wrong” in the Conservative Party and that he is standing for re-election to try to “sort this mess out”.

The Tory campaign has in recent days been overshadowed by the row over the alleged use of inside information to bet on the timing of the July 4 poll, dampening Rishi Sunak’s hopes of putting a dent in Labour’s 21-point average poll lead.

Mr Baker on Monday became the first serving minister to call for those who placed bets on the election date to be suspended by the party, with the Prime Minister on Tuesday pulling support from candidates Craig Williams and Laura Saunders.

Following Mr Sunak’s move, Mr Baker told Times Radio: “Whether for political reasons or just out of sheer respect for the public, we should maintain very high standards and stick to them and just the implication or the impression that somebody might have placed a bet on inside knowledge is totally unacceptable.”

Mr Baker also complained that the Prime Minister “didn’t consult me” on calling a summer election.

After Mr Sunak surprised Westminster by announcing the July 4 poll in May, Mr Baker went ahead with a holiday in Greece rather than campaigning in his constituency.

He said on Tuesday: “With the campaign having gone as badly as it has, you know, that’s the context through which anyone might view this timing decision but I don’t know what factors were in his mind.

“You know, he didn’t consult me. I had no idea that he was going to go for it …

“To be doing as badly in the polls as we are at the moment is, of course, extremely worrying.”

Rishi Sunak in front of Union flag background
Tory leadership hopefuls are already jostling to replace Rishi Sunak as his party braces for an expected election defeat (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Westminster watchers expect Mr Sunak to give up the Tory leadership if the electoral hammering the polls are predicting occurs.

The contest to pick his successor could shape the party for years to come as rightwingers and more centrist Tories vie for pole position.

Asked whether he wants to be part of the battle for the soul of the Conservative Party, Mr Baker said: “That’s why I’m standing.

“I’ve said to numerous people on their doorstep that … I recognise things have gone wrong and that I would love to have the opportunity to rise to their expectations of giving them the Conservative Party and the Conservative government which they expect. Pragmatic, professional and yet principled…

“I would very much like to have the chance to sort this mess out.”

Reform UK leader Nigel Farage has suggested he could launch a “reverse takeover” bid of the Tories.

But Mr Baker said: “I would not want him within the Conservative Party,” because of his tendency to say “things which are too inflaming”.

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