"Nice Chap" Greg Hands Has His Work Cut Out As Tory Party Chair
Conservative party chair Greg Hands (Alamy)
4 min read
Greg Hands has proven to be a broadly popular choice for Conservative party chair but his Tory MP colleagues are under no illusion about the scale of the challenge facing him.
Rishi Sunak this week chose the veteran MP for Chelsea and Fulham to replace Nadhim Zahawi, who the Prime Minister sacked last month for breaching the ministerial code over his tax affairs.
Conservative MPs who spoke to PoliticsHome following that mini reshuffle on Tuesday were generally positive about Sunak's decision to give Hands the role of chair, describing him as a hard-working, experienced campaigner who is well-liked within the parliamentary party.
“He’s been around the party for a long time and held pretty much every position in it," said one ex-minister. “He probably wasn’t many people’s first choice, but he’ll be lots of people’s second."
Another former minister said Hands was "very solid, hard-working and conscientious".
One former secretary of state praised Hands, who was first elected to the House of Commons in 2005, as someone who has always been prepared to pull up his sleeves when it comes to campaigning, unlike other Conservative MPs "who turn up for the photo shoot and then fuck off".
One Tory MP fighting to keep hold of their seat in the south of England said there was relief that Conservatives in that part of the country had a party chair who they could "show off".
However, MPs expressed concern that Hands has a smaller personality than some of his predecessors, potentially hampering his ability to woo donors at a time when the party is desperate to raise cash. Bloomberg reported last week that the Tories needed to raise £25m for the next general election and that multiple donors were unhappy with the direction of the party.
"I am surprised they didn't go for a bigger character," said one Conservative MP.
Several senior Conservatives including Commons leader Penny Mordaunt, former Home Secretary Priti Patel and ex-Cabinet minister Brandon Lewis, who was party chair from 2018 to 2019, were approached about the vacancy before Hands was appointed, PoliticsHome understands.
PoliticsHome contacted six major Tory party donors to ask if they were planning to fund the party this time around for the next general election. Only one responded: staunch Boris Johnson ally, Lord Cruddas, who is refusing to give the party any more money until it changes its rules to give members the power to veto any attempt by MPs to get rid of a leader. Cruddas is the president of the Conservative Democratic Organsation, set up after Johnson was kicked out of 10 Downing Street by Tory MPs last year.
“I will not be donating until the constitution has changed," said Cruddas, who has donated over £4m to the Conservatives and in 2020 given a peerage by Johnson.
"I believe that the leader should be democratically elected by the members, and not after the parliamentary party have had secret ballots.
"Our sitting and democratically elected Prime Minister was constructively removed by the parliamentary party and replaced by their choice, despite the members voting for Liz Truss."
One of the first challenges facing Hands as he settles into his new life in CCHQ is preparing his party for what is expected to be a bruising set of local elections on 4 May.
Conservative MPs are bracing themselves for an uncomfortable evening, with Keir Starmer's Labour continuing to enjoy large, double-digit leads over the Tories in the opinion polls. One senior Tory MP said those results would provide a proper "assessment" of the party's chances at the next general election, which is expected to take place some time in 2024.
A veteran Conservative campaigner described the party chair role as a "hospital pass" for Hands.
"The Conservative party could devise the best election campaign in the world, but it’ll go nowhere unless Downing Street raises its political game, focuses on delivery, starts understanding the importance of businesses, and realises the election campaign needs to start now," they said.
Former Cabinet minister Nadine Dorries, who on Thursday night announced she would stand down as a Conservative MP before the next general election, described the situation facing the Tory party as "terminal" and warned that it faced a 1997-style landslide defeat.
Turning his party around could be the biggest challenge Hands has faced in his political life.
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