Rishi Sunak appears to be playing a holding game until the next election when it is not remotely certain that there will be one he could contest similarly to have another go at the top job.
You don’t need to look at opinion polls or the betting odds to see that Rishi Sunak appears to have lost it. It seems enough to see his uncertain new style, and to hear what he says, and does not. He is going through with well-rehearsed campaign lines, but without the conviction of the early days when he was still behind in the polls but not this far behind.
So far as the polls go, the latest YouGov poll among Conservative Party members has Liz Truss at 68 percent and Rishi Sunak at 32 percent, more than halfway behind. The betting firms looking only for the winner gives Truss a 95 percent chance, and not many are betting on the remaining 5 percent. These would be energy-sapping figures for the one coming second, and it’s showing.
Most of the hustings where both candidates are presenting their cases before party members are over. The last will come in London on Wednesday, August 31. That seems too late for Sunak to still make what case he can. Most members are believed to have voted already, and not many are likely to wait further to hear what he may have to say on August 31. The result will be announced on September 5.
But consider Rishi Sunak’s performance at the hustings in Belfast, coming from the person, not the polls. The thorniest issue in Northern Ireland is of course the Northern Ireland protocol agreed upon between the UK and the EU that provides for checks on goods headed to Ireland within Britain in order to avoid a dangerous hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. In an admission that Britain got it wrong, it is now planning to tear apart the agreement it signed under pressure from Protestant Unionists who want continuing union with Britain on their terms.
Rishi Sunak brought up the Northern Ireland protocol issue at the Belfast hustings – it could hardly have been avoided - but only to say twice that he will “fix it”. Not a word to explain how, and that’s where the challenge lies.
Faced with a fraught political dispute, he came up with the lazy language of an overconfident motor mechanic. He did the same at a meeting with Indian community members in London when confronted with issues around health service, and education. Again, he said he would “fix it”. And again in Birmingham over a question raised. This kind of offering was convincing neither as a fixer nor as a leader. It certainly did not sound very prime ministerial. It may have been presidential - in a Trump sort of way.
Rishi Sunak appears to be playing a holding game until the next election when it is not remotely certain that there will be one he could contest similarly to have another go at the top job. The British political system, across all parties, is brutally unforgiving of losers. And if there is anyone waiting in the wings to take on the difficult challenge of a comeback to replace Liz Truss, it won’t be Sunak, it could be Boris Johnson.
Rishi Sunak is preparing to play the waiting game, of waiting for Britain to regret choosing Liz Truss. That it well might. The economy is sliding down, and by some estimates, crashing down. Inflation has climbed over just a few weeks from 9 percent to cross 10 percent. The Bank of England has warned it will hit 13 percent and stay that way at least until the end of next year. That has been updated with fresh independent estimates that it will hit 18 percent, and who can say with confidence it will not climb yet higher. The price rise for essential foods like bread and milk is 18 percent higher already.
That alarming and rising inflation will coincide with Liz Truss’s term as prime minister until the general election in early 2024. The more the economy slips out of control, the louder Sunak can say ‘I told you so’ to sound like ‘it should have been me’. He has a better plan for the economy clearly, with far stronger credentials to back that plan. Mind for mind, he is a league above Liz Truss who will no doubt meander into her own downfall.
That may not leave Rishi Sunak in a better place than he is at the moment. He’s lost his standing as Chancellor that gave him the platform to speak and act. He is headed for the backbenches within a couple of weeks, unless Liz Truss gives him some place of importance in the Cabinet. That would be a seriously risky move by her; no PM who appoints Sunak into the Cabinet can be certain now that he will not plot against him or in the case, her.
— London Eye is a weekly column by CNBC-TV18’s Sanjay Suri, which gives a peek at business-as-unusual from London and around.