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I Gotta Have Faith

March 28th 2024

It would be easy to make a joke about how desperately Rishi Sunak needs an Easter miracle. Our Prime Minister certainly has the appearance of a man who believes he is being unfairly crucified - the weight of the world piled upon his slender shoulders. And he does sometimes give the impression that, in his heart of hearts, he’d quite like to react to any given outrage from his backbenches with a cry of ‘I’m not a naughty boy, I’m the messiah!’.

But despite all of that, resurrection looks an unlikely prospect for Sunak. He’s twenty points behind in the polls. His own party gives every impression of loathing him. Ministers are dropping like flies, and the local elections are going to haemorrhage Tory councillors, reducing further his activist base.

Little wonder, in light of all that, that aides to the Prime Minister have let it be known this week that he believes defeat ‘now looks inevitable’ - well… yah - and that Sunak is going to ‘concentrate on his legacy’.


What legacy, do I hear you ask? Very good question!

There are the chess tables in parks, for which local authorities were invited to bid last year, of course. There’s the ban on bubblegum flavoured vapes, too. There’s scrapping HS2. And that’s about it, really. Liz Truss may have crashed and burned in spectacular style, but she will be remembered - not fondly, of course, but we won’t forget her. Sunak? It’s difficult to imagine his premiership troubling any but the most niche of historians for long. The question this begs, of course, is why? Why has he done so little and done what little he has done, so badly?

Partly it is - to be abundantly fair to the guy - pure circumstance. The Conservative Party that Sunak inherited was both bitterly divided and punch-drunk. Brexit, 2017, Boris, COVID, Kwasi - leadership battles and economic death rattles, it all takes its toll. Perhaps no-one taking over when Sunak did would have been able to salvage anything serviceable from the mess.

But partly - again, in the spirit of frankness - it is because he is him. He is a brittle and wooden sort of politician, both very sure of himself and very bad at swift and strategic decision-making. He holds most of his colleagues in slight contempt - even those who don’t deserve to be. He doesn’t have much of a feel for the public or for their needs and lives (in part because he is ostentatiously rich, in part because he has a finance guy’s sense of human beings, and most people just aren’t finance guys). He would probably make quite a good chief executive - details orientated, hard working, diligent - but he is a very bad politician.

There is a third factor that might have driven our current PM to his current dead end. A factor that keeps Tory strategists awake in the long hours. It might be a bit about circumstance and a bit about him, but what if it is also just the new reality of the Conservative Party?

The referendum and the subsequent ‘realignment’ - so this argument goes - fundamentally shocked and fractured the Conservative Party. Its old electoral alliance fell apart. It won new voters, but these voters are shallow and not emotionally attached to Toryism. And it burnt bridges with many millions of other - usually at least sympathetic - voters. And now it is hoisted by its own petard; trapped in a failing marriage to an electorate it neither likes nor truly understands.

In this paradigm, what we are witnessing is not the one-off impact of either circumstances or of personalities. It is the uncontrolled fitting and frothing of a dying party. The consequence of this? As you will have seen from our own MRP modelling, we cannot rule out a near-extinction level event for the Conservative Party.

Then again, maybe it will all work out for Rishi. Always has before, of course. He’s a man who lands on his, expensively clad, feet. Maybe the economy will recover and the planes will set off for Rwanda, and a grateful electorate will turn its lonely eyes to him. Maybe he’ll get a chance to build a legacy after all! Maybe. All things are possible in a universe of infinite splendour.

But when even the Prime Minister has given up believing that any of these things stand any chance of happening, one has to ask why he thinks his MPs should be obliged to take a leap of faith on them.