Rishi Sunak has been warned he has only six months to get a grip on government and transform Conservative party fortunes, as a series of major rebellions by Tory MPs gained momentum.
Former party chairman Sir Jake Berry added his name on Sunday to the list of Tory figures trying to force the prime minister to drop his de facto ban on new onshore wind farms.
Levelling-up secretary Michael Gove is also understood to want an end to the onshore wind moratorium, after Boris Johnson, Liz Truss and Cop26 president Alok Sharma backed a rebel amendment.
Sir Jake said Mr Gove’s reported opposition to the ban in cabinet “spells real danger” for the government – suggesting it is a “first crack in the wall” for Mr Sunak’s government.
Suggesting discipline was beginning to “break down”, he told BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg: “I was in the Liz Truss government, and you knew it was over when we lost collective cabinet responsibility.”
Mr Berry also said Mr Sunak had a “narrow window” of six months until the local elections in May to persuade voters he can “grip” big issues and prove his competency.
“There’s only 18 months, really, until the next general election,” he added. “In the last 12 months, no one is really listening because it’s all about the election campaign. So we’ve got about six months to get this right.”
Former chancellor George Osborne warned Mr Sunak on Sunday that there was “a general sense the government’s not in control of events”, telling The Andrew Neil Show that the public mood was “dangerous for a government”.
Ms Truss and Mr Johnson are among dozens of Tory MPs believed to be backing a pro-onshore wind amendment to Mr Gove’s Levelling Up Bill by former levelling-up minister Simon Clarke.
Mr Gove, who expressed his desire to see new onshore wind development earlier this year, has told allies he supports an end to the de facto ban, according to The Sunday Telegraph. Tory MPs Elliot Colburn, Robert Courts and Kevin Foster are set to add their signatures to the amendment.
A rebel source said 30 Tories now back the bid – coming very close to eroding Mr Sunak’s working majority of 69 votes if other opposition parties join Labour in backing the amendment.
Mr Sunak is also facing a major challenge on housebuilding targets. The PM was forced to pull a vote on the legislation that would set a target of 300,000 homes per year when more than 50 Tory MPs signed a rebel amendment.
The row escalated on Sunday when senior Tories insisted that the building targets were vital and must be kept in the legislation. Ex-ministers Sajid Javid and Brandon Lewis argued that the Tories could lose the next election if they fail to help more young people on the housing ladder.
Mr Javid said there was a risk of creating “a generation that turns its back on the politicians who failed them”, arguing in a piece for The Sunday Times that homeownership should remain “deep at the heart of Conservative philosophy”.
In another brewing rebellion, several Tories have spoken out about the PM’s “mindless” plan for a crackdown on overseas students in a frantic bid to cut immigration numbers.
No 10 confirmed this week that the prime minister was considering whether to stop international students bringing dependants and restricting admissions to top universities.
MP Chris Skidmore, Tory peer Jo Johnson and ex-education minister David Willetts said it would damage the UK’s reputation and economic growth.
“It’s hard to imagine a policy more likely to harm UK ambitions to become a science superpower and to level up across the country than a mindless crackdown on international students,” Mr Johnson, the former PM’s brother, told The Observer.
Meanwhile Mr Sunak is facing mounting frustration over looming strikes by NHS nurses, rail staff and postal workers. Transport secretary Mark Harper insisted that pay rises in line with inflation are “unaffordable” for the public sector. “There simply isn’t the money,” he told Sky News.
Mr Sunak – who will set out his economic vision to City figures at the annual Lord Mayor’s Banquet on Monday – also has to contend with an expected “mass exodus” of Conservative MPs.
The government’s net-zero tsar Chris Skidmore became the ninth to say they will not contest the next election following a surprise announcement by star of the “red wall” 2019 intake Dehenna Davison.
But cabinet minister Mark Harper insisted the exodus was “nothing to write home about”, insisting it was normal for a flurry of announcements to be made since Tories have been given until 5 December to make a decision on whether they will stand.
It comes as Labour shared analysis suggesting that Tories in Tories in “red wall” seats in the north of England have been left with decreasing amounts to contest the next election, with more of the party’s donations funnelled into “blue wall” seats in the south.
Labour strategists – who examined the pattern of donations in the Electoral Commission records and the register of MPs’ interests – dubbed it Mr Sunak’s “southern comfort” strategy.
A Savanta ComRes poll for The Independent – one month on from Mr Sunak taking over from Ms Truss – showed Labour enjoying an 18-point lead, with experts saying the Sunak bounce had now “flatlined”.
Tory MPs on the right of the party warned that if poll numbers did not improve by the local elections in spring it and could even see a push for the return of “election winner” Boris Johnson.