Is it really an impossible mission or can Sunak lead the Tories to victory?
As Sir Keir Starmer traverses the country breathlessly in his “utterly reckless” quest for power, trying to convince voters that he is far more interesting than political pundits believe and that his party is the real change Britain needs, hopes Rishi Sunak 2023 will be 2024, circumstances will change in his favor; that he will miraculously make his way through the political jungle to defy his critics and secure a fifth straight term for the Conservatives.
After the duplicity of the Boris Johnson government and the stupidity of Liz Truss, the political weather seemed favorable for the Labor knight and his comrades to take leaps and leaps in their quest for power, sailing serenely to Downing Street .
Labour’s progress has indeed taken a turning point after the failed Jeremy Corbyn experiment and the party’s disastrous performance in the 2019 general election, its worst in 84 years.
Read more: Sunak’s migration woes could cost him general election
For all the buoyancy at Labor HQ, however, there is a nagging doubt that the former chief prosecutor has yet to ‘seal’ the deal with British voters. Focus groups show that many still don’t really know what Sir Keir stands for.
As both parties continue their election campaign ahead of the May 4 general election in England, senior Tory officials have indicated that the loss of hundreds of Conservative seats has been “priced in”. The negative post-poll impact may well be mitigated as the country is distracted from the joys of a long bank holiday weekend thanks to King Charles’ coronation.
Recent polls have made interesting reading. A snapshot this week suggested Labor’s British lead over the Tories remained unchanged at 16 points; 45 to 29
When Sir Keir became leader three years ago, his party was 22 points behind the Tories. Last October there was a 25-point lead.
The most startling development for the top comrade has been the move towards Labor in Scotland, where the SNP’s lead in seats in Westminster is now just five points; 36 to 31
Interestingly, the Prime Minister appears to be more popular than his party, gaining significant ground over his Labor opponents in personal ratings. Some 37% saw Mr Sunak as the most able Prime Minister compared to 36% for Sir Keir; the corresponding figures in January were 33 and 39. Clearly the direction of travel will worry Labor strategists.
The party leader also seems to be growing when it comes to Tory members. A ConservativeHome baseline survey last month showed his net satisfaction rose to 43.7% from 7.4%. Quite a jump.
It seems Mr Sunak has impressed people with his quiet diplomacy towards the EU on the Northern Ireland Protocol. US President Joe Biden’s visit to the province next week to mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement will not tarnish the Prime Minister’s diplomatic standing.
Then there’s the improving ties with France, the calming of market turmoil, the stable budget, standing firm on Ukraine and the popular move to halt the Scottish Government’s proposed gender recognition reform bill.
As always, economic issues are the most important factor in an election. Analysts seem to agree that Mr Sunak will fulfill his pledges to halve inflation and boost the economy. However, a survey found that only 22% of people thought the economy would improve over the next 12 months. About 58% said it would get worse.
The promise that looks the most unruly is a promise to stop the small boats, with Dorset Tories already up in arms, to use a barge moored on site to take in 500 migrants. Expect more Conservative opposition to using old RAF sites in England to house thousands more. And then, after Easter, there are Tory rebel MPs to mollify the tightening of the Illegal Migration Act.
While the Prime Minister will confine his work to pacifying the rebels and healing Westminster’s divisions, the ongoing loss of some Red Wall seats to Labor could be avoided if he can prove his government controls the borders post-Brexit. The number of migrants has already fallen by 17% in the first quarter of this year compared to last year.
The Conservative leader privately told his MPs last week that while voters may be less hostile to the Tories after Truss, “we still have work to do” in the detoxification process before the party has a chance of winning the election. Insiders are making a note of it for autumn 2024.
The Prime Minister insisted colleagues must “focus on the basics” and ignore the white noise of daily media commentary. Easier said than done, of course.
Read more: Next week could be the most critical time for Sunak’s political future
Green shoots of optimism are peeping out in the dusty corridors of Westminster, and some Conservatives are whispering that next year’s election could be more like the 1992 election than the 1997 election.
In the former, a post-Thatcher Tory government led by John Major won a slim majority of 21. While voters didn’t like the Conservatives, they liked Labor under Neil Kinnock even more. Five years later, Tony Blair’s New Labor trundled home with a majority of 179. Conservatives were wiped out in Scotland and Wales.
Interestingly, the ruse of some Scottish Conservatives to forge a union pact by 2024 gave the impression less of a country-first attempt to rid Scotland of as many nationalist MPs as possible and more of a clumsy strategy to cover their own skins rescue. Given where the polls stand, the focus is undoubtedly a picture of a Tory ghost wiped out in Scotland in 1997.
So while Sir Keir will be our next Prime Minister, backed not least by Conservative infighting fueled by pro-Brexit Spartans and the potential for an SNP implosion, there is still a lot of political water to flow under the bridge before Election Day.
It is also important to remember that these famous “events” in politics sometimes mean that nothing can be considered absolutely certain. Or completely impossible. Not even another Conservative victory.