Braverman hits back at Badenoch over ‘public breakdown’ comments

<span>Suella Braverman at the National Conservatism conference in Washington DC on Monday. She said the cabinet, including Kemi Badenoch, should take responsibility for the Tories’ collapse in vote share.</span><span>Photograph: Dominic Gwinn/Zuma Press Wire/Rex/Shutterstock</span>
Suella Braverman at the National Conservatism conference in Washington DC on Monday. She said the cabinet, including Kemi Badenoch, should take responsibility for the Tories’ collapse in vote share.Photograph: Dominic Gwinn/Zuma Press Wire/Rex/Shutterstock

Suella Braverman has attacked her fellow leadership hopeful Kemi Badenoch for comments that were leaked from a shadow cabinet meeting, as one poll of grassroots members put Badenoch as the members’ favourite.

The poll also found half of Conservative grassroots members are in favour of a merger with Nigel Farage’s Reform UK.

Badenoch reportedly told her shadow cabinet colleagues at their first meeting on Tuesday that Rishi Sunak’s decision to call an early election without informing them had been “disastrous” and bordering on unconstitutional.

She also said Braverman appeared to be having a “very public” breakdown, after controversial public comments by the former home secretary. Two allies of Braverman on the right of the party – Danny Kruger and Sir John Hayes – are now said to be backing Robert Jenrick’s leadership bid.

In a post on X, Badenoch said: “It’s a shame our discussions in Shadow Cabinet were leaked yesterday. If there is no private space to discuss our Party’s challenges, we will never fully address what the electorate told us last week.

“The views of those outside these meetings matter too. Not just backbench MPs, but our party activists, members and friends who lost seats after giving everything to the campaign.

“In government, we had too much nodding along in the room and arguments outside it. That culture needs to change. We need to be honest with one another in private, and united in the direction we take afterwards.”

Braverman wrote back: “I’d be interested in knowing whether Kemi thinks I’m having a ‘very public nervous breakdown.’ Kemi, and the rest of the cabinet, should not have nodded along, as they and Rishi took the party to disaster. The refusal to take responsibility is at the root of our problem. It was not someone else’s fault.”

Sunak addressed MPs at their first 1922 Committee meeting on Wednesday night in parliament. Bernard Jenkin, the Tory MP for Harwich and North Essex told reporters that Sunak was “very sorrowful, apologetic” and that there was “no hostility, none whatsoever” towards him.

He added that Sunak was “not rushing out of the door as some previous leaders have done” but that he has not set a timetable for how long he was willing to carry on as a caretaker leader. Jenkin said the party shouldn’t rule out having an interim leader.

Edward Leigh said the meeting was “perfectly polite”. But he told reporters that his party needed to be a “proper Conservative party” to bring back Reform voters and that “you can’t just say we’re all united … we have to stand for something”.

Badenoch has support from 31% of those polled for the Party Members Project, run by researchers at Queen Mary, University of London and Sussex University.

Others who have been touted as potential leaders have minimal support from party members – Priti Patel gained just 6% and Jenrick, who has attracted a slew of names in support from the party’s right, has about 7%.

James Cleverly, the former home secretary who is said to be contemplating a bid to present himself as a unity candidate, would be backed by 10% of the party, according to the poll.

A fifth of Conservative members polled said they would most prefer to see the return of Boris Johnson to lead the party and 10% said they would like to see it led by Farage.

Braverman is the only potential leadership candidate who has suggested the Tories should seek an accommodation with Farage and the hard-right Reform UK.

Of those surveyed, 47% of Conservative members said they were in favour of a merger, with support strongest among the over-50s and those from lower-income backgrounds.

Cleverly has called for the Conservative party to unite in opposition, as the party heads into what is likely to be a bitter leadership campaign.

Writing in the Times, he said: “There is strength in unity, and the Conservative party has always been at its best when it embraces being a broad church. We lost voters to the left and the right, and we won’t win them all back if we narrow our offer.”

Tory veteran Bob Blackman was elected as head of the 1922 Committee on Tuesday night, and will be responsible for helping set the rules of the leadership election.

Blackman suggested on Wednesday he was inclining towards a longer contest, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think we’ve got to take time to reflect on the fact that we were beaten in the election, and we need to decide, as you say, which direction we choose.”

But Mark Francois, a Conservative MP on the party’s right, hit out at how the vote for the 1922 Committee chair had been conducted, and said several colleagues had missed the vote. “You can’t start our parliamentary year in opposition with an election that was chaotic,” he told GB News.