The Conservative party must unite to stand a chance of winning the next election, the party’s new deputy chairman has warned. Outspoken “red wall” MP Lee Anderson has a clear message for his Tory colleagues ahead of the vote expected next year: “We live and die as a team.”
Rishi Sunak’s appointment of Mr. Anderson to the senior role has triggered controversy, but the Ashfield MP insists the party can win the coming election.
He said: “It’s not over… We’ve got a battle on our hands.
“We live in a great country and it’s a brilliant democracy and it’s up to us to unite and get out there.”
His appointment comes ahead of the May local elections which could heighten pressure on Mr Sunak if the Tories suffer a bad night.
Mr Anderson defends the PM’s record, saying he has taken a tougher stance on illegal immigration than any previous leader.
He is confident the Government can deliver a breakthrough on stopping small boats crossing the Channel, saying: “This is one of those clear dividing lines between us and the Labor party. I’ve always been of the opinion that if you arrive here illegally you should not be allowed to claim asylum and Rishi agrees with us.
“This is the toughest stance yet we’ve had from a PM on this issue.”
His support for the death penalty and claims that nurses earning £30,000 have “something wrong” with their finances if they use food banks have triggered controversy, but Mr Anderson is now a sought-after speaker at Conservative party events.
He said: “I was in Taunton last week, I spoke to 250 members. The membership in Taunton is no different to the membership in Ashfield.
“They are the same kind of people. They’ve got different accents and probably work in different jobs but fundamentally they are the same people.”
The Tories will go into the next election in radically different circumstances to 2019, with Boris Johnson out of the Government and Labor no longer led by Jeremy Corbyn. But Mr Anderson argues that Sir Keir Starmer is a threat to the country.
He said: “He supported Corbyn. He propped him up.
“He never spoke out against him. Even when all the nasty stuff was going on…
“He was there and he kept quiet and I always think that if you keep quiet on something like that you’re just as guilty as the person spouting the nonsense. He’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
Mr Anderson, a former Labor activist who describes himself as a “first time Conservative voter”, argues that the Tories can hold onto the seats the party took from Labor in the so-called red wall. He claims that most “working class people in this country are conservative in the way they live their lives” and argues that with the right message they can be persuaded to vote Tory again.
He said: “Yes, they are grumpy with us but they are not saying Starmer is the new Blair Messiah because he’s not.”
The MP, a former miner, has grown used to public rows since entering Parliament.
“I always say that my haters are my motivators,” he said. “My haters are a source of strength to me.”
But he argues that he speaks from personal experience about the realities of poverty.
He said: “When people talk to me about poverty I say, ‘Hold on, mate. I was a single parent for 17 years.
“I had to sell my car because I couldn’t afford to run it. I’ve had my house repossessed because I had no money.
“I’ve been through all these things. So don’t say to me you don’t know what it’s like to be on the breadline because I’ve been there with two children, so shut up. I had walked a mile in those shoes.”
He does not envisage former PM Mr Johnson making a comeback – but the ex-leader retains strong support in Conservative ranks.
Conservative MP Danny Kruger hopes Mr Johnson will find a new role in politics as a champion of reform.
He told GB News: “I think the decision for Boris is, is he going to reform the way we’re governed? Is he going to put power in the hands of local people and support families and make Brexit real by getting back control of our borders?
“If Boris commits to doing that, then I would be delighted because he brings so much. He’s got all the courage and all the charisma that we need in our leaders.
“But he’s a great man. You know, he is a historic figure who will always be a key part of the Tory story and I’d love to see him back in some way.”