The leader of Greenwich Council’s Conservatives has welcomed Rishi Sunak entry into 10 Downing Street – and admitted he got it wrong when backing Liz Truss to be prime minister.
Sunak formally became prime minister this morning after meeting the King at Buckingham Palace. He was declared the winner of the latest Conservative leadership contest yesterday.
“Good luck and congratulations to Rishi Sunak,” Hartley wrote on social media yesterday. “It’s now essential that all Conservatives unite behind our new leader, and soon Prime Minister, to deliver. The first British Indian PM too – remarkable how unremarkable that fact has been – a proud moment for our country.”
But Hartley, one of just three Tories to remain at Woolwich Town Hall after the council elections in May, threw his weight behind Truss when she competed against Sunak in the previous leadership contest. The former foreign secretary served as a Greenwich councillor from 2006 to 2010.
Last month, he told 853: “We surveyed our local party members in the borough and there was no surprise that she was streets ahead in the leadership contest here.
“The quality that marks her out during her political rise is that she has always stayed so down-to-earth. She has a lot of warmth, and people like her.
“Anyone in the Labour Party who is currently underestimating Liz Truss is in for a very big shock at the general election.”
Truss and her chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, went on to cause chaos in the financial markets after a mini-budget full of unfunded tax cuts. Mortgage rates shot up and deals for first-time buyers were pulled.
She sacked Kwarteng – her neighbour in west Greenwich – and announced her own resignation last Thursday, just 45 days after she took over.
Hartley said on social media at the weekend: “Time for some humility. Like most party members I voted Liz for leader – I got it wrong. Her goal of a low-tax, high-growth economy is one every Conservative shares. It’s the right goal. But the hard truth is that Rishi has been proved right about the economic reality we’re in.
“Liz is a good person, who wanted the best for our country, tried, and failed – and in the most public way imaginable.
“On a human level, I don’t think any public servant – whatever their mistakes – deserves the pile-on we’ve seen these last few days.
“Politically, we’ve just gifted Labour, Lib Dems and SNP so much ammunition. And we have to confront the fact that, to many people, parts of the mini-budget just confirmed their worst perceptions about us. It will be v difficult to recover that lost ground, but we must – quickly!”
Lakhsan Saldin, Labour councillor for Charlton Hornfair, responded by saying there should be a general election instead. “Matt, appreciate the mea culpa, but what your party has done is crash the economy, raise tax and put £500 extra a month on the average mortgages. Yet you choose to focus on the ammunition you have gifted Labour, Lib Dems and the SNP. I think it’s just time that you went.”
Labour’s London Assembly member for Greenwich & Lewisham, Len Duvall, said the country needed “calm, competent and compassionate leadership” from the new prime minister.
He said: “Pensioners, families, and schoolchildren are facing real hardship this winter. We often see this most acutely in London, home to some of the most deprived areas in the country.
“The capital is overlooked to a large degree by the levelling up agenda, with those most vulnerable at risk of being further left behind as times get tougher.
“Londoners, and our public services, shouldn’t have to carry the burden for economic mistakes made by those in positions of power in the upcoming fiscal statement.
“I hope the PM understands London’s importance to the national economic recovery and works with City Hall to finally do right by Londoners.”
Election wrangle coming up
While the Greenwich Conservatives won 23 per cent of the vote in the last local elections, the first past the post system meant they won just three seats – all in the south of the borough, and all with narrow majorities
However, the next council election will not be until 2026. Until then, local politicians’ minds will be on the next general election, and the latest proposals for possible new constituency boundaries – which would apply if a poll is held in 2025 – will be revealed on November 8, before a final public consultation on the issue.
Early proposals suggested a new Eltham & Chislehurst constituency, which could benefit the Conservatives, a smaller Greenwich & Woolwich seat and Erith & Thamesmead taking in more areas of Greenwich borough.
Updated at 5.25pm to include Len Duvall’s statement.
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