Public 'right' to vote Tories out - with party having 'opportunity to regroup', says ex-minister Nadhim Zahawi

Former Tory cabinet minister Nadhim Zahawi has said the public was "right" to vote his party out of government, adding that now was the time to "regroup".

Mr Zahawi, who stepped down ahead of the general election, told Sky News' Sunday Morning With Trevor Phillips the results last week were "pretty catastrophic" for the Conservatives.

The once dominant party have gone from 365 MPs to 121 following their worst-ever defeat, with many big beasts kicked out of parliament following Labour's landslide victory.

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Mr Zahawi said: "It is pretty catastrophic. To go from 365 MPs down to 121. That's pretty shocking. But I do think that we have an opportunity to regroup."

He said "serious talent" remained within the Conservative ranks and that he was "hopeful they will come together" and unite the party.

Referencing the multiple leadership contests of recent years, he added: "For too many years, for far too long, we formed a circle, a firing squad and that is what the electorate saw.

"Therefore they reacted, and they reacted quite rightly, by throwing us out of power."

Mr Zahawi would not go as far as naming who should lead the Conservatives, or who should not, saying the most important thing for whoever comes forward is they have a plan "of how to unite the party".

Asked if that meant he would not support a leadership bid from the likes of Suella Braverman or Kemi Badenoch, seen as divisive figures on the right of the spectrum, he said he was "not going to come out and either criticise or attack my colleagues".

However, in a sign he does not want to see a shift to the right, the former chancellor said he did not agree with calls from some former colleagues to welcome Reform UK leader Nigel Farage into the fold.

Mr Zahawi said the Tories lost votes both to Reform UK and the Liberal Democrats and whoever takes over from Rishi Sunak will need to appeal to both sides.

He said: "Let's not forget that they [the Lib Dems] have taken many, many seats from us, including my own in Stratford-on-Avon.

"So this idea that all we need to do is deal with the issues around Reform, immigration, migration is not enough."

Mr Zahawi, who was sacked as Tory chairman last year following a row about his tax affairs, announced in May he would not fight the seat he represented since 2010.

Stratford-on-Avon was one of many "blue wall" constituencies the Lib Dems gained in a successful night that saw Sir Ed Davey's party win a record 72 seats overall, making them the third largest party in parliament after support for the SNP collapsed.

Reform UK gained five seats, eating into the share of the Tory vote and pushing Mr Sunak's party into third and fourth place in some former Conservative constituencies.

Mr Sunak has taken responsibility for his party's losses and announced his resignation, meaning a battle will soon commence to replace him as leader of the party - giving it its sixth leader in eight years.

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The contest risks triggering a fresh round of infighting as the Tory MPs left in parliament debate what direction the party should go in.

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Former home secretary Ms Braverman, who retained her seat of Fareham and Waterlooville with a much-reduced majority, blamed an "idiotic strategy", high taxes, immigration and "insane political correctness" on the scale of the defeat in a scathing intervention in The Sunday Telegraph.

She later hinted she could throw her hat in the ring for leader, telling GB News on Sunday: "I'm having lots of conversations with colleagues and I'm very flattered with what they're saying to me."

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Former immigration minister Robert Jenrick, another potential contender from the right, has also blamed a failure to cut migration, high taxes and "broken" public services on the election loss.

He has not ruled out a leadership bid, but told the BBC's Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg it is "self-indulgent" to talk about this now and the party needs a period of self-reflection.

Other Tory MPs who are expected to launch leadership campaigns include former security minister Tom Tugendhat, former business secretary Ms Badenoch and former home secretary Dame Priti Patel.

It is understood former chancellor Jeremy Hunt, seen as being from the moderate wing of the party, has ruled himself out of the race, having narrowly clung on to his seat by a majority of less than 900.