A faction of Conservative members feel they were “denied a vote”, according to a former party chairman, after Rishi Sunak was crowned Tory leader during a quick leadership contest in the autumn.
Sir Jake Berry said Mr Sunak, who automatically became Prime Minister after being elected Tory leader in October, should have held an “endorsement vote” to show he had the support of the membership.
Instead, there is a “perception” that Tory MPs are “disconnected from our membership”, he said.
Mr Sunak was elected unopposed after passing the threshold of 100 MP nominations, meaning the autumn contest to replace Liz Truss as prime minister turned into a coronation.
Rival candidate Penny Mordaunt pulled out before the final run-off and former prime minister Boris Johnson opted not to stand.
Mr Sunak’s entry into Downing Street came only weeks after he had come second to Ms Truss in the summer leadership contest, with Tory members choosing the former foreign secretary over him .
Sir Jake served as Conservative Party chairman during Ms Truss’ short tenure in No 10.
In an interview with GB News, the Rossendale and Darwen MP said: “I actually think it’s a great pity for Rishi Sunak that we didn’t have a vote of members.
“Because in the summer, fine Conservative that he is, he struggled actually to get the support of Conservative Party members — as, funnily enough, did Jeremy Hunt in the previous leadership election.
“And I think even though he absolutely got the majority of the Conservative Members of Parliament — and I support him as Prime Minister in everything he does — the challenge he has is, even if it’s not true, there’s a perception of the Conservative Parliamentary Party now being disconnected from our membership.”
Sir Jake said he thought Mr Sunak “would have won it well” if he had asked the membership to vote to endorse him but, instead, a narrative has been allowed to develop about members being “denied that vote”.
The former Northern Powerhouse minister also revealed that, in the final days of the Truss premiership, he was part of a “war room” in No 10 — along with the former prime minister, ex-chief whip Wendy Morton and former deputy prime minister Therese Coffey— in a bid to stabilise her leadership following the disastrous mini-budget.
Shortly before Ms Truss’ eventual resignation, Sir Jake said he rebuked “two of the most senior civil servant in the Treasury” after they apparently tried to press on him “why there could be no long, protracted leadership election in the Conservative Party”.
He said: “They asked me at the end of it, “Do you agree?’.
“And I said, ‘Well, I hope you don’t mind me saying, I don’t really think it’s any of your business, as civil servants, about how political parties choose their leader’.”
In a candid interview, Sir Jake also touched on his battle with depression and how his wife — a former aide to Boris Johnson — dealt with post-natal depression.
Speaking about the darker side of being an MP, he told broadcaster Gloria De Piero about having a stalker.
He said a woman racked up a “huge hotel bill” in his Lancashire constituency, telling the staff she was working for him.
Sir Jake said the woman, who he said had travelled from the North East of England, appeared to have a “fixation” with him.
“She claimed that she was having my baby, claimed that we were getting married,” he said.
“She came to our house, was sort of at the end of the lane with a suitcase waiting to run away with me or whatever she had in her mind.”