Rishi Sunak to weaponise divisive issues in desperate bid to win back voters

Rishi Sunak is understood to be launching an aggressive political campaign after losing two substantial Tory majorities to Labour candidates in this week’s by-election.

He is reportedly intending to launch divisive policies in crime, migrants and transgender rights after insisting the next general election was “not a done deal”.

Labour claimed the Selby and Ainsty, and Somerton and Frome by-elections with two historic turnarounds of Conservative majorities – while the Tory party barely clung on to Uxbridge and South Ruislip, former prime minister Boris Johnson’s old seat.

According to sources quoted in the Times, Mr Sunak is now looking to “weaponise” divisive issues to improve his chances next year.

Labour’s victory in Selby & Ainsty represented the second biggest by-election swing from the Tories since 1945.

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But the Uxbridge & South Ruislip election was won, many analysts argue, on the divisive issue of the ULEZ.

Tory campaigners effectively turned the election into a referendum on the expansion of London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s controversial policy to introduce fines for expensive cars.

Ironically, the hated policy that appears to have allowed the Conservatives to retain their seat is one which was initially proposed by Mr Johnson himself.

The success of focusing on such a divisive issue over other policy areas is reportedly inspiring Mr Sunak to apply the same logic to the rest of the country.

Sources claim the PM believes that the victory in Uxbridge demonstrates the power of a “substantive issue” to help the Tories win elections.

He also reportedly acknowledges, in private, that after eight months of trying to restore order within Tory ranks he needs a “change in pace, emphasis and approach”.

The rest of the summer will, it has been claimed, see the Prime Minister set out several divisive issues, that his team will then build on at the coming Conservative Party conference and in the King’s Speech in autumn.

Particular areas of focus are said to include crime, transgender rights, and migration.

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The Conservatives are understood to currently be drawing up a crime bill with tougher sentences for anti-social behaviour, fraud, burglary and robbery – as well as cracking down on knife-carrying and forcing offenders to show up for their sentencing hearings.

This follows an announcement earlier this year that new policies will force graffiti artists to clean up their paint and smokers to spend time picking up cigarette butts if they are caught dropping theirs.

Maintaining a focus on migration, Mr Sunak is set to position his party as the one capable of dealing with the issue due to Labour’s opposition to their Rwanda plan – despite the Government’s failed attempts to fly asylum seekers to the country or to reduce the number travelling to the UK across the Channel.

The PM is also understood to be setting out several policies that impact trans rights, including pursuing stricter guidance for schools and pushing forward with plans to change the Equality Act to introduce explicit protections for biological women in same-sex spaces such as changing rooms and hospital wards.

By taking a direct stance against transgender people, Mr Sunak is distinguishing himself from Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, whose position on the subject is less clear.

Sir Keir has insisted there would be “no rolling back” on women’s rights if he were Prime Minister, but has otherwise struggled to indicate his trans policy.

Asked whether a person with a penis could be a woman, his response “for 99.9 percent of women, it is completely biological” satisfied neither those opposed to transgender rights nor those advocating for them.

Some Conservatives are said to be using the win in Uxbridge over the ULEZ as proof that net-zero policies should be dropped despite their importance to addressing climate change.

The former Brexit secretary Lord Frost said the by-election showed “just how unpopular . . . net-zero policies can be”, adding that to win the next election Sunak should “junk” them.

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