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It’s all over for Rishi Sunak


4 min read

The received wisdom is that we are way past the point where the final nail has been hammered into Rishi Sunak’s political coffin, and it is now underground, with his own MPs tramping the dirt down.

This is not going to be a column that reveals a cunning plan that just might save the Prime Minister.

It’s true that you can never say never in modern politics. Polls can and have been wrong in the past. But they have never been that wrong.

Sunak is reduced to hoping that something will turn up. That thing will have to be something so extraordinary it is almost impossible to imagine.

The party is ineffective, divided and has almost no perspective on the big picture

There are several reasons why he finds himself in this parlous state. I suspect it was all over before he even reached No 10. The scandal of partygate and the disastrous handling of the economy by Liz Truss were noticed by the electorate – opinions were changed, and there is no sign that they will shift back. We are left waiting for the inevitable.

Even if it wasn’t already over, the Conservative party is suffering from the narcissism of small differences. The theory goes that the more time a community spends together, the more it is likely to find things to fight about.

Nowhere has this been clearer than in the party’s attempts to deal with the small boats. For some bizarre reason Rishi Sunak decided to take on Boris Johnson’s Rwanda policy. It has been evident from the start that it could not be made to work – and even if it could, only a vanishingly small number of immigrants would be put on a plane.

Instead of quietly dropping it, Sunak has made it the be all and the end all, turning it into a test of his government’s virility. Factions have formed and argued the toss over how extreme the policy should be. The result: advertising to the public that the party is ineffective, divided and has almost no perspective on the big picture.

They have broken two fundamental rules of politics: first, do not raise expectations on an issue you can’t control; second, when you are in a hole, stop digging.

The next reason it is almost certainly over for Rishi Sunak is he is struggling to be consistent. He came in telling us he would be the face of competence and stability. Then he told us he was the change candidate overthrowing 30 years of political failure – never mind the fact that he was an establishment figure who had been chief secretary to the Treasury, chancellor and now Prime Minister.

Within weeks he seemed to switch back from change to stability – wisely inviting my old boss, David Cameron, to be foreign secretary. Apparently, the moderates were now in the ascendant, celebrating the calm and the sensible. But days later he was refusing to meet the Greek prime minister, looking petulant and sulky rather than prime ministerial – and opening himself up to the accusation that he has a reverse midas touch. 

The public notices all of this.

It’s true that Labour is hardly setting the world on fire. They look frightened at the prospect of taking over at a time of growth bouncing around zero – and tax rises and spending cuts looking like their only options. The other day Keir Starmer rightly said we need to end the constant drama, but strangely kept repeating that we need to replace it with the “mundane” – hardly a way to motivate a jaded general public.

But none of that changes the fact that it is enough for Labour to look vaguely sensible for them to cruise to victory on anti-Tory sentiment.

I may end up with egg on my face, but I’m afraid I think it’s all over bar the shouting for Rishi Sunak. 


Craig Oliver, former director of politics and communications at No 10

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