A new wave of Conservative MPs are expected to announce that they are quitting politics in the new year as poor polling numbers help convince more Tories to stand down.
Multiple Conservative MPs have told The Telegraph that some colleagues have admitted in private that they have decided to not seek re-election and will say so early next year.
Others are expecting colleagues to discuss standing down with their families over Christmas, with a minister predicting that many will conclude: “Screw this for a game of soldiers.”
Figures in Conservative Campaign Headquarters, which is planning the election campaign, and the Tory whips’ office are also braced for a flurry of new departures.
Some Tory MPs are even now privately expecting that more of their colleagues will stand down than before the 1997 general election, when Tony Blair and New Labour swept into Number 10.
In the run-up to the 1997 vote, some 75 Conservative MPs stood down. In this cycle, 52 Conservative MPs have done so, with possibly a year still to go before voting day.
Already this cycle’s number of departing Tory MPs has exceeded the figure in the general elections in 2001, 2005, 2010, 2015, 2017 and 2019.
The Telegraph talked to more than a dozen current and former Tory MPs, government insiders and party officials in a bid to assess the scale of what may be coming.
There is a universal expectation that more Conservatives will announce that they are quitting between now and the general election, which must be held by January 2025 at the latest.
Figures playing down the significance point to the tendency for MPs to have shorter parliamentary careers nowadays and the potential end of a Tory run in government that has lasted 13 years.
Others say the failure by Downing Street to improve the opinion polls, with the Tories still around 20 percentage points behind Labour, is a key factor in the rush for exit door.
There continues to be a focus on whether some Cabinet ministers with slim majorities could choose to bow out rather than face the prospect of being kicked out by the electorate.
Seats held by Jeremy Hunt, the Chancellor, Alex Chalk, the Justice Secretary, Gillian Keegan, the Education Secretary, and Lucy Frazer, the Culture Secretary, are all on opposition party target lists.
Mr Hunt recently told The Telegraph that he was in “the fight of my life” to keep his seat in a battle with the Liberal Democrats, but categorically rejected speculation that he might stand down.
Knowing how many Tory MPs are preparing to announce their resignations, or are seriously considering doing so, is impossible to predict, given that such considerations are kept private.
Some Tory MPs, however, have told The Telegraph that they have been personally informed by colleagues that a departure announcement will be made in the new year.
One former Tory Cabinet minister claimed in recent weeks that four Conservative MPs had privately admitted they would be quitting politics, with announcements likely early next year.
“Right after Christmas you [will] get a lot more,” the source said, adding that the winter break gives each MP “a time to reflect on it, talk to your family”.
A Tory MP said: “I know that there are many who are toying with the idea of standing down and looking to announce that in the new year if that is what they conclude… They are very unhappy with the state of things, and they want to reflect over Christmas.”
Other Conservative MPs said they were not personally aware of more announcements coming, but many said they would not be surprised if that were the case.
Two distinct camps exist in this area, according to one former Tory whip – those MPs who have already decided to quit and those considering whether to stand again but running out of time to decide.
The source said: “A number of colleagues have already decided and are waiting for the new year to announce it. There is a chunk more who are genuinely undecided. They are probably waiting to get to Christmas, making an assessment of where they are.”
Two factors are significant, the source added. One is the recent Cabinet reshuffle, with Tory MPs on the back benches now more confident they will not return to government before the next election.
A second is the opinion polls. The latest opinion poll averages have Labour on 44 per cent of the vote and the Tories on 25 per cent. If that result were delivered at the general election, Labour would win a sizeable overall Commons majority.