Labour cannot rely on the Tories being “crap” to win the next general election, shadow health secretary Wes Streeting has said, as he criticised Rishi Sunak for having “cranks” in his Cabinet.
The Labour frontbencher reiterated Sir Keir Starmer’s warning to his party against being “complacent or cocky” because of their large poll lead over the Conservatives.
Asked how Labour can avoid going backwards in the polls when up against a potentially more stable Government under the new Prime Minister, Mr Streeting told a press gallery lunch in Westminster: “Liz Truss was beaten by a lettuce so that was a low bar, but it’s also important for us to bear in mind that Rishi Sunak was beaten by Liz Truss who was beaten by a lettuce”.
He quipped that Sir Keir “has given conference speeches that lasted longer” than Ms Truss’s 44-day tenure.
“That’s not a joke you make unless you’re 30 points ahead in the polls,” he added.
The Ilford North MP continued: “I don’t think that we should underestimate Rishi Sunak but I also don’t think we should overestimate him”.
Mr Sunak got the “pitch right” in his speech in Downing Street by effectively apologising for economic turbulence caused by his party and resolving to put it right, he said.
But, he added, the Prime Minister’s choices in the hours that followed revealed “he is too weak to reverse” the damage done, pointing to his controversial reappointment of Suella Braverman as Home Secretary days after she was forced out by Ms Truss over a security breach.
“You don’t have to scratch too far beneath the surface to find the ill discipline in the Conservative parliamentary party and he has shown that his instinct is to appease those factions, not to confront and defeat them,” Mr Streeting said.
The talent pool in the Conservative Party is so shallow that they’re recycling Health Secretaries.
12 years of Conservative mismanagement has led to the biggest crisis in the NHS’s history.
This voter was right then and she’s right now👇🏻 pic.twitter.com/XUHlxyUJja
— Wes Streeting MP (@wesstreeting) October 25, 2022
He said that Mr Sunak’s pandering to his party’s “worst elements” could hurt the Tories at the next general election.
But, Mr Streeting cautioned, “we do have to win on our own terms as well”.
“We can’t rely on the Conservatives being crap, however reliable that proposition has turned out to be”.
Mr Streeting contrasted Mr Sunak, whom he accused of doing “grubby deals” to appease parts of his own party and being “dangerously out of touch,” with Sir Keir, saying that for the Labour leader “country comes first”.
He also emphasised that Labour had “changed substantially at every level” since the days of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.
“In the Labour Party, the cranks have been kicked out or left. In the Conservative Party the cranks are sat around the Cabinet table,” Mr Streeting said.
Referring to Mr Sunak’s new Health Secretary, who returned to the role he lost under Ms Truss, Mr Streeting said: “We’ve ended up with Steve Barclay, the worst Health Secretary since Steve Barclay.”