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By Lord Watson of Wyre Forest
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Former Minister Welcomes Rishi Sunak's "Willingness To Listen" Despite Continued Scandal

Theresa Villiers, pictured in October 2022 (Alamy)

3 min read

Former cabinet minister Theresa Villiers has praised Prime Minister Rishi Sunak for being “willing to listen” to backbenchers, even as Downing Street remains engulfed in scandal since he took office late last year.

Villiers said the Prime Minister’s time in office has marked a “welcome relief” and the “return of political stability” within the Tory party following last year’s turbulence that led to the ousting of former prime ministers Boris Johnson and Liz Truss within months of one another. 

Her comments come as the risk of rebellion among the Tory ranks remains high, with negotiations ongoing over the Northern Ireland Protocol, and the Budget due on March 15. 

While Villiers felt that the party has “strong debate [and] people express their opinions" she seemed confident that MPs would be willing to unite behind Sunak in the coming months. 

"I think Rishi has shown himself adept at being willing to listen to the backbenches,” she told PoliticsHome podcast The Rundown.

She called on MPs to “work together; both the backbenches and frontbenches”.

Villiers, MP for Chipping Barnet in north London, had threatened a rebellion over planning and housing targets before Christmas when she proposed an amendment to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill that would see housing targets scrapped. 

She told PoliticsHome that she had been “concerned about the impact that setting very aggressively high targets is having on the ability of local councils to have control over what is built in their neighbourhood”, but felt she was able to withdraw the amendment after housing secretary Michael Gove “came up with some sensible measures”.

The Conservative Party has been more settled since Sunak took over in the autumn, following the dramatic departures of his predecessors Johnson and Truss, and Villiers noted that the party does not “agree on everything, but there is far more that unites us than divides us”. 

“It's been a welcome relief under Rishi’s premiership, we have restored political stability and that includes stability within the Conservative Party,” she said. 

But even in his first 100 days in office, Sunak has sacked two ministers in the midst of a scandal, and questions continue to mount over whether deputy prime minister Dominic Raab will become the third following numerous accusations of bullying. 

Former chancellor Nadhim Zahawi was fired as party chairman last weekend over “a serious breach of the ministerial code” following an investigation into his tax affairs, and Gavin Williamson was forced to resign over bullying allegations before Christmas. 

Sunak is now facing questions over what he knew and when in relation to bullying allegations against Raab, who is currently subject of an investigation by the government's independent ethics adviser.

Outside of Westminster, reviews of Sunak don't seem to be as glowing as that given by Villiers.  Polling released on Thursday to mark his 100-day milestone suggests that more than half of the public think that he is doing a bad job as Prime Minister. 

Data from Savanta showed that 54 per cent of the general public think he has done a bad job in the first 100 days, including 42 per cent of people who voted Conservative at the last General Election in 2019. 

Just under a third of people (31 per cent) think that he has done a good job.

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