5 Jul 2024

‘I’m devastated, it’s been a bad night for the Conservatives’, says Sir Charles Walker

Social Affairs Editor and Presenter

We’re joined by Sir Charles Walker, who represented Broxbourne for the Tories for almost 20 years.

Jackie Long: What does it feel like now to be out of power after so long? A terrible, terrible night for your party.

Sir Charles Walker: It was an awful night for the Conservative Party. There is no way of sugarcoating the pill. Unless I say that Electoral Calculus had us on 61 seats on Wednesday in its final poll of polls, and we managed to come back with 122. But that is still a woeful performance.

Jackie Long: But you’d be grasping at straws there.

Sir Charles Walker: I’m really not saying this was a good night in any way. It wasn’t a good night. I’m devastated for my colleagues who’ve lost their seats, their staff, the prime minister. It’s just been a really, really bad, bad night for the Conservative party.

Jackie Long: Former prime minister gone, Theresa May’s seat is gone, David Cameron’s seat gone. I mean, the level and the nature of this defeat is enormous, isn’t it?

Sir Charles Walker: It’s huge. I think it’s the greatest defeat the Conservative Party has ever suffered in its history. Now, I think we can come back from it, but that’s going to require a huge amount of discipline over the weeks, months and years ahead. I’m just not sure my party has the capacity to demonstrate discipline.

Jackie Long: First of all, it also requires an understanding of where you went wrong and at what point you went wrong. Rishi Sunak today looking and sounding devastated, apologising to the British people. He says he takes full responsibility for the loss. But it’s beyond one campaign, isn’t it, here?

Sir Charles Walker: This is a collective enterprise. The Conservative Party must take responsibility for this loss. The Conservative Party put Boris Johnson into Number 10. We did a deal with the devil there. Boris has huge, huge political skills but he also came with huge, huge downsides. When that didn’t work out, we put Liz Truss there for 48 days, which was an absolute disaster. That’s when we blew our reputation entirely for sound money and financial responsibility. The British public are really very, very cross with us.

Jackie Long: But also there’s an issue for many people about integrity. You had Partygate, you had Boris Johnson found guilty of lying to parliament, you had gambling gate, as it became known as. Do you accept that, in the end, for some people, it was that lack of integrity that did it for you?

Sir Charles Walker: Of course I accept that. I don’t think it was the main issue. I think gambling gate was probably overplayed, but I certainly think the goings on at Number 10 during lockdown had a huge impact or a significant impact on the nation’s psyche. I don’t think there’s any equivalence, in all honesty, between what went on at Number 10 and a few MPs placing bets on the outcome of a general election. As bad as that was, and it was, we weren’t denying people the right then to see their dying relatives as we were during lockdown.

Jackie Long: And no doubt about the damage done to your party last night by Reform. Where does that go now?

Sir Charles Walker: Reform’s performance was fantastic for Reform and devastating for the Conservatives. There is no pushback on any of the questions you’re asking me. The Conservative Party needs to own collectively a dreadful result.

Jackie Long: But where does it go now, given what Reform has done?

Sir Charles Walker: What I hope it does now is it goes to ground and does a bit of thinking for the next six months. Because the danger is we think, ‘Actually if we just move to the right, let’s chase after this Nigel Farage chap’s vote, we’ll get a short term sugar rush.’ But the danger is people say, ‘Well, why should I be voting for a Reform-like Tory when I could get full fat Nigel?’

Jackie Long: But there’s real danger there, isn’t there? Because the tendency in the past has been to do that.

Sir Charles Walker: Quick fixes. We all love a quick fix. You get a real rush, and then you get a very heavy down, a big hangover.

Jackie Long: Will Rishi Sunak stay on as leader? If he doesn’t, who are the big beasts that are left? We saw Suella Braverman last night, we listened to her speech.

Sir Charles Walker: You mention the big beasts. I don’t put her in that category. But I hope the prime minister does remain. He’s still the prime minister, isn’t he? I hope Rishi Sunak remains leading our party through the summer recess. We should have a leadership contest, perhaps in the autumn, back-end of the autumn, with a new leader in place before Christmas. I think that would be the earliest we would want to do any of these things.