Tories at war: Andy Street warns against 'ideological zealots' in party bent on fighting Nigel Farage’s Reform

Former West Midlands mayor Andy Street warns the Tory party must fight Labour on the centre ground of British politics not swing to the right (PA Wire)
Former West Midlands mayor Andy Street warns the Tory party must fight Labour on the centre ground of British politics not swing to the right (PA Wire)

Top Tory Andy Street warned against the party being captured by “ideological zealots” focused on fighting Nigel Farage’s Reform or uniting with it.

The former Mayor of the West Midlands issued scathing criticism of some in the party “talking to ourselves” as ex-Home Secretary Suella Braverman publicly clashed with Kemi Badenoch who served as Business Secretary.

He called for the leadership contest to be delayed until the end of the year, rather than being concluded in time for the autumn party conference in Birmingham, so that party members could shift their focus away from Reform to how they will fight Labour for the Centre ground of British politics.

Mr Street, the ex-head of John Lewis, told LBC Radio: “We must not misdiagnose what our problem is now and therefore come to the wrong conclusion.

“It’s about being a party that is able to deliver not being some sort of ideological zealots and those in our party who say our problem was our ideology was wrong, our positioning was wrong, I totally reject that.

“The diagnosis is too much of my party is focused on the battle with Reform.”

While immigration was an issue that needed addressing, the fight against Mr Farage’s Reform was “almost a sideshow”.

Mr Street, who made clear he was not commenting on any particular Tory leadership contender, added: “The real issue is how we move back to the middle ground of politics, where the huge majority of the British public are and of course it’s where Labour has been able to win a huge majority.

“If we are not playing in that middle ground, and we are talking to just our core voters indeed almost to ourselves we won’t get back onto the main agenda.”

He stressed the need to play a “long game” and for the party to ensure it is a broad church, tolerant of debate, with an able leader surrounded by “brilliant people”.

“Everybody is obsessed with the Con-Reform battleground and we are likely to make the wrong decision,” he added, with one poll showing nearly half of Tory members believe the two parties should unite.

“I cannot imagine anything madder,” he stressed.

“The party at its best has been a broad church, it’s been inclusive, it’s been welcoming of everybody.

“Reform is not that. Reform is a protest movement, not a party of Government.

“So we need time to get the majority of party members to see that and to take the right decision.

“A quick, you could call it knee-jerk reaction risks the wrong reaction.”

As for the suggestion that Mr Farage could take over as Tory leader, Mr Street said “It can’t be because I don’t believe that he embodies the best traditions of the Conservative Party which are about reaching out, including everybody, helping those people who need the support of the state whilst enabling other people to thrive.

“He is by nature a divisive person, not an inclusive person and for me that is absolutely a point of principle.”

Mr Street explained that as the Tory government had failed to deliver on its pledges, people had turned to the “protest” party of Reform.

“We have got to give people confidence that we genuinely can deliver then the need for Reform removes,” he stated.

Arguing for a long leadership contest, he continued: “If you are a party member and you spend all your time fighting Reform on the frontline, you are bound to be in a particular state of mind at the moment and what I’m saying is stand back from that, think about the much wider issues, think where we are going to be two, three and four years’ time, and it needs to be fighting Labour, not Reform.”

His comments came after Ms Braverman and her fellow leadership hopeful Ms Badenoch openly traded blows, after the latter reportedly accused her rival of having a “very public” nervous breakdown during a meeting of Tory frontbenchers.

In Tuesday’s gathering of the shadow cabinet, Ms Badenoch reportedly called Mr Sunak’s decision to leave D-Day commemorations early “disastrous” and said colleagues including Penny Mordaunt would have kept their seats if he had stayed longer in France.

On Wednesday she said it was a “shame” discussions from the meeting had been leaked, but renewed her attack on the previous Tory government by saying there was “too much nodding along in the room”.

And she did not deny making the nervous breakdown remark about Ms Braverman.

Former home secretary Ms Braverman then took to Twitter, also known as X, to say: “I’d be interested in knowing whether Kemi thinks I’m having a ‘very public nervous breakdown’.”

The row came after shadow home secretary James Cleverly called for the party to unite as he warned against “bitter infighting”.