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How Rishi Sunak can out-game the plotters

(Alamy)

3 min read

The ability to choose the date of the next election is usually considered a political ace, but Rishi Sunak seems to view it as the old maid.

With Labour a devastating 20 points ahead, and no change in sight, Sunak faces certain wipeout today or the hope that a few more promising economic indicators will soften the blow tomorrow. An autumn election has been all but pencilled in by most of SW1. 
Yet that doesn’t make it certain. The fact that everyone says an election will be held in the autumn suggests it might not be. The element of surprise plays to the incumbent’s advantage, so why not take it?  With 2 May, the date of the local elections, the government has a strong alternative. 

While the Tories are unlikely to get their mo back any time soon, they could at least avoid freefalling

What’s more, to win an election, you need the ‘mo’ – that is, momentum. An autumn election will follow what will certainly be a bad set of election results in the spring, followed by a season of small boat crossings, a relatively gloomy economic outlook, and dispirited party activists. 

While the Tories are unlikely to get their mo back any time soon, they could at least avoid freefalling.

This leads to the third consideration. What is Sunak selling? The problem his campaign has is that he is an unlikely change candidate, yet fails to offer a tempting status quo. By setting himself up as a ‘show not tell’ premier, in direct contrast to Boris Johnson, he has run into trouble by struggling to deliver on his five pledges, and finds he has little X-factor to fall back on. Hence, we see the government focus on a longer-term plan instead. All this has allowed Labour to rest their case to govern simply on not being the Tory Party rather than spelling out their agenda in any detail. 

All the while, mass panic is spreading in the Tory ranks. MPs are abandoning party discipline in a bid to save themselves from political oblivion. Many head to opposing voting lobbies in a bid to shore up their own unique constituencies: blue seats with an eye on Lib Dems, red wall seats with an eye on Labour. With talk of yet another Tory leadership election, suddenly a general election seems like a solution to a party unravelling – our fourth reason. 

But now is not the time for political chaos. With wars in Ukraine and the Middle East, and more than 50 per cent of the world’s GDP going to the polls this year, the world feels volatile. It’s all very well waiting until the final moment in the hope that you have more chips to cash in. But the more time passes, the higher the risk of unforeseeable ‘events’. There is also muttering from the western security community that the United Kingdom and the United States could go to the polls in the same month, which could be still more destabilising. So, fifth, there is a good case for avoiding that. 

Finally, there is the human factor. Let’s consider the view from Sunak’s No 10 flat. Gordon Brown bottled the 2007 election partly because he’d waited his whole life to be PM and couldn’t bear to give it up. But Sunak does not have the air of a brooding Shakespearean king who cannot give up the throne. He has good prospects and a healthy bank balance. It can’t be much fun living above the shop. He knows what’s coming, so why not get it over with? 

 

Baroness Fall, Conservative peer and former deputy chief of staff to David Cameron

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