Rishi Sunak badly burnt by Tory rebellion as jostling for leadership begins

Rishi Sunak has been badly burned by a Commons rebellion by nearly 60 Tory MPs who voted against his flagship Tobacco and Vaping Bill.

When Commons deputy speaker Dame Eleanor Laing called the vote just before 7pm, the rebels on the Conservative back benches made a lot of noise screaming "No!"

And minutes later it was revealed that their rebellion was not only noisy but also a defiant show of strength by the mutinous Tory right that will leave the PM and his allies gasping.

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In an ominous but entirely predictable warning shot to the PM, the list of rebels included a roll call of the right-wing contenders for the Tory crown, both serving and former cabinet ministers.

Don't forget, it's the predominantly elderly, right-wing, nanny state-hating - possibly even cigar or pipe-smoking - Conservative Party members who will elect Mr Sunak's successor.

Topping the list of leadership candidates desperate to please those party activists was Kemi Badenoch, the business secretary, who never misses an opportunity to play to the Tory gallery.

Next was the equally ambitious Robert Jenrick, who also voted against the bill, while Penny Mordaunt, another darling of the activists, appears to have abstained.

Suella Braverman, the former home secretary, dashed back from a controversial conference of right-wingers in Brussels so she could fire her latest salvo against Mr Sunak.

But the most high-profile and public rebel during the six-hour debate was former prime minister Liz Truss, who made a speech lashing out at "virtue-signalling" and "finger-wagging, nannying control freaks".

The Tory high command will claim that strictly speaking it was not a rebellion, because it was a free vote for Conservative MPs, though critics of the PM claimed that was a sign of weakness by the dithering Mr Sunak.

But several government ministers were among the MPs voting against the bill, including Steve Baker, Alex Burghart, Andrew Griffith, Julia Lopez and Lee Rowley. Anne-Marie Trevelyan abstained.

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And in a move which will have no doubt emboldened many would-be rebels, the Tories' backbench shop steward, 1922 Committee chairman Sir Graham Brady, was among those voting against the bill.

In what Truss's detractors will no doubt dismiss as a return of the living dead, coming on the day of the launch of her book, Ten Years to Save the West, her closest allies also rebelled with her.

They included her former party chairman Sir Jake Berry, ex-ministers Sir Simon Clarke, Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg and Sir Alec Shelbrooke and Craig Whittaker, who was her deputy chief whip.

Two current Tory deputy chairmen, Brendan Clarke-Smith and Jonathan Gullis, both noisy 2019 red wallers, and their even noisier mate Lee Anderson, now in Reform UK, also voted against the bill.

No surprise, also, that the rebels included Adam Afriyie, who it's reported spoke at a UK Vaping Industry Association conference last year and won the "most supportive parliamentarian" award.

Predictably, old right-wing warhorses like Sir Edward Leigh, Sir Christopher Chope, Mark Francois and Sir Desmond Swayne joined in the backlash, though Sir John Hayes appears to have abstained.

The 67 MPs voting against the bill, plus the two tellers, also included seven Democratic Unionist MPs and the former cigar-smoking firebrand George Galloway, who won the Rochdale by-election earlier this year.

The motive of all the rebels? Well, to be fair, many of them genuinely loathe what they call the nanny state and many claim the bill is un-Conservative. And indeed, the shadow health secretary Wes Streeting claimed it was a Labour bill.

But those leadership contenders' motives go far beyond that.

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Theirs were all about telling the party membership: "I'm on your side. If you vote for me, I'll uphold true Conservative values."

As for the PM, who hopes this public health legislation will be his legacy to a grateful nation, he will be hoping the size of the Tory rebellion does not mean he's at the fag end of his premiership.