Conservative ministers and MPs say Downing Street staff Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy must take responsibility for result
abinet ministers and a string of Conservative MPs are demanding that Theresa May sacks one or both of her closest advisers if she wants them to support her minority government, propped up by the Democratic Unionist party.
Several politicians told the Guardian that Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy, who act as the prime minister’s joint chiefs of staff in Downing Street, must take responsibility for the poor result, which saw the Tories lose their majority.
The pair were at the centre of recriminations flying back and forth between MPs on WhatsApp groups and even resulted in one cabinet minister branding the pair as “monsters who propped her up and sunk our party”.
It came as the prime minister met the chair of the Tories’ backbench 1922 committee, Graham Brady. She will address her party’s MPs next week, amid strong feelings about the poor showing in the election campaign.
Much of the anger centred on a manifesto policy on social care, drawn up by Timothy, along with Ben Gummer – the Cabinet Office minister who lost his seat – and policy chief John Godfrey, which resulted in a humiliating U-turn that tightened the polls.
When asked whether she was planning any personnel changes, May said she was focusing on forming a government but said those matters were for another day.
Insiders said the Downing Street advisers were not to blame and instead pointed the finger at the Australian strategist Sir Lynton Crosby, claiming he told colleagues that manifestos were a “sideshow” and refused to take part in policymaking.
A source also told the Guardian that Crosby insisted on focusing the entire message on May’s personal character, the 11 days until the start of Brexit negotiations, and relentless negative attacks against Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
The source suggested the prime minister was uncomfortable with Crosby’s strategy, including the heavy focus on herself, and even dropped attack lines from speeches in the final days.
Sarah Wollaston, who was returned as Tory MP for Totnes, cited a controversial social care policy that was branded a “dementia tax” and resulted in a U-turn. She also blamed “US attack-dog style politics” that made people feel sorry for Corbyn.
“I do think she [May] should stay on but I wouldn’t be surprised if we end up having another election soon and people will be absolutely appalled by it … I can’t see the advisers staying. I think they should go,” she said, arguing there had been serious errors.
“I think those who were most closely involved in advising need to consider their positions.”
Rob Wilson, the Conservative culture minister who lost his Reading East seat, said the manifesto had struck an ”Exocet missile through the heart of our main supporters” and that the party cannot be run by such a small group of people.
He gave three reasons for the loss: first, the social care policy; second, Corbyn’s campaign gaining momentum and galvanising support among young people. “The third thing was we put an Exocet straight through the heart of our main supporters – older people,” added Wilson.
There were also concerns about how the party missed the surge in the youth vote, and the fact that previous Ukip backers were assumed to be turning Tory when many actually opted for Labour.
Some started by saying May should go, but others – including firm Brexit supporters – rallied around the prime minister warning that any move towards a leadership bid could scupper Brexit.
Iain Duncan Smith said it was imperative to back the Tory leader because on the EU “we are running out of time” and anything else would be a “suicide note”.
“This is the only option on the table. My advice to the party is shut up and get on with it. If you think there is an option – [a new leader] isn’t it – it is a suicide note,” he said.
“Anyone who thinks they are doing that will be bringing the whole thing down. Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas.”
Others cited the Tories’ lack of an economic argument in the campaign. One cabinet minister said his party was left without a response to Corbyn’s giveaway manifesto because the Tories “stopped making the case for fiscal credibility”.
He asked why senior ministers were kept off the television, including the chancellor, Philip Hammond.
Others said Hammond and the Brexit secretary, David Davis, had pushed May towards an early election. The Guardian has previously revealed that the prime minister was not keen on the vote, but was persuaded into it.
But senior cabinet figures said that everyone backed her in the final decision. One said the problem was that it was called a “snap election but was anything but snap”, allowing Labour to build up in the eyes of voters, and critique the Tory record.
One said there was a failure to explain “what makes us Conservatives” and they said they did want to see Timothy and Hill removed.
“The whole thing was coordinated by them. May should stay but things need to change in her closed style of leadership. It is untenable to carry on as business as usual.”
Brady admitted it was a “very disappointing result” but also stressed that the Conservative vote share was the best since 1983 and “many of us achieved bigger Conservative votes than ever before but there was also clearly a surge in Labour support and in some constituencies that was an unstoppable force”.
He added: “Clearly we are not in the position we would want to be in but I think it is incumbent on us to try to make it work using the parliament that the people elected.”
Some experts asked why the Tories failed to offer a big retail offer, with just the eyecatching energy cap that fell short of Labour’s policy on the sector.
The director of communications for the Conservative 2015 campaign, Giles Kenningham, said: “The manifestos played a huge part in this election. Labour’s contained populist policies and created a sense of momentum behind their campaign.
“And the fact it was leaked early actually gave them several days of uninterrupted press coverage focused on these policies.
“In contrast, the Conservative manifesto contained no retail flagship polices for activists to sell on the doorstep and of course contained the ill-fated social care policy. More damaging than the policy itself was the U-turn that followed days after.”
He said the Tories’ uncosted manifesto put them in a very weak position to attack Labour polices as not adding up.
And he praised the way that the leftwing pressure group Momentum used “to devastating effect” arm’s-length attack videos that reached parts of the electorate the party perhaps could not get to.
“The Tories did not have an equivalent campaigning group pushing out their message,” he said.