X Close

It’s too soon to topple Rishi Sunak

Does the Tory Right dare take aim at Rishi Sunak? Credit: Getty

December 11, 2023 - 10:00am

Rishi Sunak began the year with five pledges — the fifth and most politically potent of which was to “stop the small boats”. In making this commitment, the Prime Minister promised “no tricks, no ambiguity. We’re either delivering for you or we’re not.”

So far, it is clear, they’re not. In fact, the Government is losing ground. The Supreme Court verdict on the Rwanda scheme was a massive setback — as were the departures of Suella Braverman and Robert Jenrick. If Sunak’s attempt to rescue the Rwanda policy through the passing of emergency legislation fails, then what’s left of his authority will be lost. It’s hard to see how he could carry on as PM in such circumstances.

Given that the Right of the Conservative Parliamentary Party looks set to rebel on the Safety of Rwanda Bill, December could mark the end not just of 2023, but of Sunak too. Yet his Tory enemies couldn’t pick a worse time to bring him down.

For a start, the Right doesn’t have a viable leadership candidate. Braverman is not popular with the public — and there’s no proof that she has enough parliamentary support to reach the final two in a leadership race. It is easily forgotten that in the summer 2022 contest she only came sixth. As for the wild idea of getting Boris Johnson back into the Commons (and therefore available for the leadership), forget it. Any such move would be blocked while Sunak is still in charge — and if he falls there wouldn’t be enough time to arrange a suitable by-election.

The second reason not to squish Rishi right now is the timing of the next general election. A cornered PM would be within his rights to call an immediate vote, the result of which would be a Tory apocalypse. If we assume instead that Sunak goes quietly, we’d need a new prime minister, the third in a row to be imposed without a popular mandate. He or she would come under immense pressure to go to the country sharpish. Changing leaders in the next few months would therefore likely mean losing the option of an autumn election.

One final problem is that if Sunak is toppled too soon, his successor would be seen as a usurper. As such, they would receive the blame for any ensuing electoral defeat (vengeful Sunakites would make sure of that). So even if Right-wingers could replace the PM with a candidate of their choice, what would be the point? They’d just be burning through one of their papabili (of which they have precious few) for no real gain.

Sunak, then, should be allowed to carry on into 2024. The best-case scenario is that his plan comes together, thus offering genuine hope of recovery. The worst-case scenario is that he’s humiliated in the local elections, at which point he could leave of his own volition — thus allowing a successor to emerge with unbloodied hands.

For all of these reasons, it would be an act of self-sabotaging idiocy for the Right to sink Sunak now. But that, of course, is why they’re almost certain to try. 


Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.

peterfranklin_

Join the discussion


Join like minded readers that support our journalism by becoming a paid subscriber


To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.

Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.

Subscribe
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

14 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
54321
54321
7 months ago

Self-sabotaging idiocy is what the Conservative Party specialise in these days. I’ve been following UK politics since the 1980s and have never seen such a cavalcade of self-immolating mediocrity masquerading as a government.
In 1997 when they got thumped by Blair the conventional wisdom was that after 18 years in government they would benefit from some time out of power to re-focus, but few people doubted they would be back in the fullness of time.
This time around I’m not even certain they will ever be back. They have, to put it not too finely, shit the bed with so much of the electorate who are resolutely determined to punish them next time that they are trending towards a historically low number of seats in 2024. Any more dicking-around replacing leaders is only going to reaffirm the contempt in which they are held.
Longer term, their core support is aging and dying off and they are anathema to the majority of younger voters. Just 21% of 18-24 year olds voted for them in 2019, an election they won comfortably. In 1997, an election they got absolutely smashed in, that figure was 27%. Who knows how low it will sink in 2024.
In the past you might have said, who cares? Young people have always flirted with radicalism but become more conservative as they grow up. But that was presumed on them having something to conserve, especially homes and mortgages. With Millennials now unlikely to be able to buy a home unless they are already on the housing ladder and a large proportion of Generation Y probably renting their whole lives, the Conservatives trying to sell themselves as the party of aspiration will seem like a sick joke to them.
The Tories great talent has always been reinvention while projecting stability. Now they just look like a bunch of clowns drowning in their own venal incompetence, desperately thrashing around for a straw to cling to.
I’m not saying its likely. But I’m also not saying its impossible that this is the last Conservative government we have in the UK, at least in the present form in which we understand those two things.

Last edited 7 months ago by 54321
Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
7 months ago
Reply to  54321

Excellent comment

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
7 months ago
Reply to  54321

Yes. All Starmer has to do is persuade the rent-seeking classes that he’ll enrich them as much as Blair did and the Tories are toast.

Stephen Walsh
Stephen Walsh
7 months ago

Through their very public disloyalty to and plotting against Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, Sunak and his supporters have made yet another change of leadership in advance of the general election an effective impossibility. Yet Sunak has proved himself utterly unequal the job he very obviously coveted. Had he thrown his considerable energies and intellect into delivering for and improving the Johnson administration – which did at least have the mandate and the leader with the popular touch which this government lacks – the country would be in a better position.

Geoff W
Geoff W
7 months ago
Reply to  Stephen Walsh

Boris and Liz never, ever plotted against anyone, of course.

Craig Young
Craig Young
7 months ago

Not a word about what’s best for the country. Just spin, spin, spin. And fiddling while Rome burns.
We have war in Europe and the Middle East, while at home we have a govt that just couldn’t be bothered to deliver even the most basic of public services, as hundreds of thousands of ordinary people struggle to put food on the table.
I cannot wait to see the whole damn lot of the Tories and their toady media pundits get the comeuppance that is surely now so very richly deserved.

Last edited 7 months ago by Craig Young
Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
7 months ago
Reply to  Craig Young

Unfortunately, you’re going to be disappointed. The same people will be in charge a year from now whoever wins the election, I’m afraid. These days politicians are just their scapegoats.

Arkadian Arkadian
Arkadian Arkadian
7 months ago

“as were the resignations of Suella Braverman and Robert Jenrick.”
Did Breverman resign?

Emmanuel MARTIN
Emmanuel MARTIN
7 months ago

So did JFK

AC Harper
AC Harper
7 months ago

The worst-case scenario is that he’s humiliated in the local elections, at which point he could leave of his own volition — thus allowing a successor to emerge with unbloodied hands.

But then there will be plenty of opportunity for journalists to run out stories about why it is too late to change the PM before the next election.
In any event there will be plenty of MPs who remember how Theresa May hung on and on, and be inclined to avoid doing the same again.

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
7 months ago

The whole idea is mad. Leave him in place until after the election. (There is no Tory leader who could possibly win it.) Then shove him out after the election. Or if by some freak chance he wins (ermm, Starmer is revealed as Jeremy Corbyn in heavy make-up) then he is a Tory winner and will be loudly acclaimed by all the now-assassins.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
7 months ago

“It’s too soon to topple Rishi Sunak’

Agreed, the Tories should wait until about three weeks before the election.

j watson
j watson
7 months ago

‘Failure to think ahead’ regarding the implications of one’s actions/policies etc perhaps the epithet of the last 13 years Tory Govt and their supporters. The latter bit is important because the howling crowd has played a big role in leading us to where we are and are as guilty of not thinking ahead as the actual Tory leaders.
And on the actual issue of Rwanda, as came out yesterday the Govt has earmarked £700m for Manston Immigration centre all the way forward to 2030. Doesn’t look like they think they are solving the ‘illegal’ migration problem anytime soon.
And then of course there is the paucity of Policy that might help wean us off the high level of legal migration. Making it harder for some to come here legally doesn’t solve the problem of why certain industries had become so dependent. It might trigger some readjustment, but it’s a ‘hit and hope’ approach to Policy.

Paul Curtin
Paul Curtin
7 months ago

If not now then when.
He’s got to go.
He’s not up to it, regardless of how inconvenient the timing is, this is a fact.