Sunak faces a race against the clock as election wipeout looms  - analysis by Christopher Hope

Rishi Sunak

'Rishi Sunak's one year anniversary as Prime Minister is today - but the Tory leader has little to celebrate'

PA
Christopher Hope

By Christopher Hope


Published: 25/10/2023

- 16:18

'Time is running out for Sunak to set out why Tories should get out to vote for a leader who still has to earn the trust of party members who did not vote for him to be leader'

Rishi Sunak's one year anniversary as Prime Minister is today - but the Tory leader has little to celebrate.

"The Prime Minister is more focused on the continual delivery for the public than marking an anniversary," his official spokesman said when I asked how Sunak will be marking the moment.


Perhaps this is not a surprise. Sunak and his party are still lagging well behind Labour and its leader Sir Keir Starmer in the polls.

Sunak's approach to governing has hardly set the world alight. He might have been appointed Tory leader (and so Prime Minister) a year ago, but he did not set out his plans for his premiership until January.

WATCH: Christopher Hope looks back at Rishi Sunak's first year in power

This was because his priority was to restore confidence in a Tory Government badly shaken by the fallout from the unravelling of the administrations run by Boris Johnson and Liz Truss.

Sunak eventually set out five targets for 2023 in January.

Ten months on he is only likely to hit three of them - cutting national debt, growing the economy and halving inflation by the end of this year. The other two - stop the boats and cut NHS waiting lists - are some way off.

This approach might have reassured his MP colleagues - but it has so far done little to fire the imagination of voters.

Sunak is doing his best. He works hard, and regularly impresses his colleagues when he has mastered a brief.His biggest weakness among Tory MPs is the apparent absence of political antennae.

One former Cabinet minister told me the problem with the PM is that he "got an A* in every A-Level except Politics - which he failed".

There is also growing concern about a "clique" of Sunak-ites around the PM, many of whom will be preferred in the ministerial reshuffle expected in the next few weeks.

This reshuffle will "break the glass ceiling" by appointing 2019-intake Tories, his allies say, to give the impression of a changed, youthful administration to challenge Labour. But reshuffles often create as many enemies as they do satisfied ministers.

The passing of his first year in charge means that Tory MPs can start to submit letters of no confidence in their leader.

There is already talk in Parliament that disaffected Conservative MPs - worried about losing their livelihoods at an election wipe out next year - might send in letters to the 1922 chairman Sir Graham Brady, not to replace him, but to make Sunak change direction.

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Sunak

'Time is running out for Sunak to set out why Tories should get out to vote for a leader who still has to earn the trust of party members who did not vote for him to be leader'

PA

Sunak's allies stress his right wing, tax cutting credentials. And they point out that his ambition is hemmed in as the UK deals with the fall out from spending £500billion on the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine.

Tories were cheered by Sunak's decision to delay some net zero targets from 2030 to 2035, but dismayed by a lacklustre party conference, dominated by axing the HS2 northern leg and banning smoking.

The general election is now at best 12 months away, and possibly as little as seven months from now.

Time is running out for Sunak to set out why Tories should get out to vote for a leader who still has to earn the trust of party members who did not vote for him to be leader.

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