Priti Patel will accuse Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of presiding over the “managed decline” of the Conservative Party in a speech today.
The former home secretary is one of the keynote speakers at the launch of a new grassroots movement – the Conservative Democratic Organisation (CDO).
Set up by backers of Boris Johnson, the new group wants to give party members more power and is critical of the way Mr Sunak was appointed leader – describing it as “undemocratic” and a “coronation”.
It comes after the Tories lost more than 1,000 councillors at last Thursday’s local elections following a chaotic year that has seen them go through three different prime ministers.
Having originally lost the party leadership contest to Liz Truss, Mr Sunak replaced her in October after her 45-day tenure ended in economic and political turmoil.
By contrast, the Labour Party is now on track to being the largest party in Westminster at the 2024 general election – but short of an outright majority.
Ms Patel, also a Johnson loyalist, will tell CDO members on Saturday that Mr Sunak needs to offer more “hope and optimism” for Conservatism or risk being responsible for the “managed decline” of the party and defeat at next year’s general election.
She will reportedly criticise “those in power and control in our party” who “rarely seem to be out there meeting people” and highlight the importance of the grassroots that she called the “backbone of the party”.
Calling for party reform – and possibly Johnson comeback
The CDO first emerged in February and is expecting around 500 people at its launch event, where key posts will be given out and the party’s constitution debated.
Earlier this year, it campaigned for constituency associations to be able to choose their own parliamentary candidate and to be able to deselect their MP.
It also wants the Conservative Party chairman to be directly elected by party members.
As well as Ms Patel, former business secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg is said to be among the backers, with former prime minister Mr Johnson “in the background” as “supportive”.
The timing of the launch will not be lost on Tory MPs who are still reeling from local election losses.
They remain divided on key issues like tax cuts, defence spending and party growth strategy.
And discipline within the party risks further deteriorating if the CDO cranks up the pressure on MPs to reform its constitution.
There are also concerns that it is keen to reinstate Boris Johnson as prime minister after CDO vice president Lord Greenhalgh tweeted that the momentum behind his comeback is “unstoppable”.
“It is time to restore the democratic rights of Tory members, not least the right to choose parliamentary candidates without being hectored and bullied by party headquarters,” he added.