- By Laura Kuenssberg
- Moderator, Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg
1 hour ago
Exactly 12 months ago, Rishi Sunak was preparing to be a good loser.
It was their almost immediate implosion that quickly gave him a chance to move up to 10th place.
Mr Sunak has fulfilled his first task of bringing calm after a crazy few weeks. But after almost a year in his second job, restoring the Tory party’s public image is miles out of reach. In fact, a poll this week recorded his worst personal ratings ever.
As the new political season begins, I asked ministers and senior Conservatives what the chances are that the Prime Minister will be nothing more than a good loser in next year’s general election.
Those lucky enough to have their butts on the leather seats of ministerial cars all know the situation is bad. “The numbers don’t lie,” a senior minister tells me. Another cabinet minister said: “There is no point in pretending we are not under pressure and it will get worse.”
Another member of the government believes the chances of a turnaround are slim: “The path has always been narrow, now it looks as if it is vanishingly narrow.”
But politics and public sentiment can change extraordinarily quickly. Another member of the cabinet said it was simply far too early to call the matter off and that they had “not given up all hope yet”.
Another minister believes that although voters are angry with them, they “want us to be on their side” and that there is still a lot to be decided.
But the conservatives had been in the doldrums for a long time. Ministers know that they are picking up on the feeling that many citizens are deeply fed up.
One of the cabinet ministers I spoke to admits: “The public is bored with us and frustrated that things have been announced that have not been implemented.”
The sight of queues at airports, more train and doctor strikes and the fact that children can no longer go to school this week because of the risk of buildings collapsing all contribute to the palpable feeling among many voters that this For many people in our country it simply doesn’t really work.
As schools and parents struggle to figure out what’s going on, a Labor source jokes: “If we were to create a ‘The Tories are rubbish’ story we wouldn’t be able to do it so well.” And the background to all of this is, that inflation has made it increasingly difficult for millions of people to make ends meet.
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Downing Street’s many attempts to change the mood have so far been unsuccessful. No. 10 “has played a lot of cards,” complained one member of the government, “and “in the truest sense of the word nothing moves voters.”
The government’s planned “Small Boats Week” to demonstrate efforts to tackle the problem took an absurd turn as migrants got on and off the barge “Bibby Stockholm” that was being transported to their accommodation were transported by barge.
Most voters will hardly have noticed a change in mini-ministers this week. The prime minister’s high-profile five promises in January, on which he wanted to be judged, are proving difficult to keep. Failing the test you have made public is not a pleasant situation for any politician.
What else do you have in your locker? A change is coming after Mr Sunak established himself in office, one minister said: “We’ve always wanted to be flashier and more adventurous.” “When you’re way behind, it’s logical to take some risks,” said another.
There have been some changes to the Downing Street operation in the last week (you can read about them here), which is both an admission that all is not well and a sign of a desire to tighten up the political operation.
Can the man on the left put the man on the right “in difficult positions”?
Big standard events are coming. First the Tory party conference, then the King’s Speech – the moment when the government announces the new laws it wants to introduce.
Both are big opportunities for the Prime Minister to make the headlines. One minister says: “This will be his last big chance to show the country that he really is the best person to lead in the next few years.”
There are rumors that crime and welfare will be big issues Mr Sunak wants to pursue. Expect to focus too much on attacking their political rivals by choosing issues where the two parties clash. “We want to put Labor in difficult situations,” says a senior source.
No matter what cunning slogans No. 10 conjures up, the hole that conservatives must climb out of is very deep.
This is not just because of the chaos of the last year, which has angered so many people. Not only because any party that has been in power for so long is susceptible to voters simply feeling like they have had enough.
But it’s also harder to run compelling campaigns when your differences with your competitors are less pronounced. One minister fears there simply are no “big dividing lines”.
The Conservatives will not benefit from the collapse of the Liberal Democrats next time, as they did in 2015, nor will they have the clarity of the Brexit divide that led to their hefty victory in 2019.
Rishi Sunak doesn’t want to be the prime minister who steadied the ship but couldn’t save it from slowly sinking. His moves in the next few months could be crucial to whether he can keep the company afloat.