homeworld NewsLondon Eye: It’s also Sunak vs Sunak

London Eye: It’s also Sunak vs Sunak

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By Sanjay Suri  Aug 8, 2022 11:33:45 AM IST (Published)

Just as surely as Rishi Sunak is doing a great job in the debates, it’s at least partly his own projections driving down support among Conservative Party members.

Oddly opposing flows stand out in Rishi Sunak’s campaign to become Prime Minister of Britain. He wins debate after debate, and in the opinion polling he is falling further and further behind Liz Truss. Even more oddly, it’s Rishi Sunak himself who seems responsible for these unfortunate opposites.

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Unfortunate because he needs to win over Conservative Party members, and not those debates, impressive enough as that is. Just as surely as he’s doing a great job in the debates, it’s at least partly his own projections driving down support among Conservative Party members.
A video clip released just ahead of the fourth hustings in Eastbourne this week, and the attempted PR damage control, offered startling evidence of Rishi Sunak working against himself. The clip, traced and released no doubt by some Truss supporters through The New Statesman, shows Rishi speaking to some party members in a garden in Tunbridge Wells in the south of England.
Rishi Sunak is seen saying, “I managed to start changing the funding formulas to make sure that areas like this are getting the funding that they deserve, because we inherited a bunch of formulas from the Labour Party that shoved all the funding into deprived urban areas ... that needed to be undone. I started the work of undoing that.”
The inevitable storm followed. That he had managed to divert public funding from deprived urban areas to areas such as Tunbridge Wells. Tunbridge Wells is not just affluent, it is so affluent as to be familiar in all of Britain as a metaphor of affluence.
Damage Control
Rishi’s PR team went into instant overdrive in an attempt to undo the damage, or at least to limit it. Quick comments from Rishi Sunak were arranged just outside the hall where the hustings were due. The spin on offer was that Rishi Sunak meant that he ensured funding also to rural areas, not just to urban areas.
That spin would have stood a far better chance of being convincing had he made his remarks in some deprived rural area, not in an affluent garden in swank Tunbridge Wells. The guests seated in the garden, the very picture of well-heeled Tories, appeared a world apart from poor farmers in some deprived rural area.
The second round to attempt damage control came through the course of the hustings. Anticipating a question over this, Sunak mentioned the video clip on his own as an example of how he would support rural and not just urban areas.
Concern over deprived urban areas was never going to be an issue among the wealthy Conservatives at Eastbourne hustings. But going by some conversations with Conservative members later, not many bought the spin. They didn’t mind any disregard for the urban poor, they did the attempt to project that he had something other than what he had.
That remark at Tunbridge Wells is indicative of an underlying anxiety right through his campaign to win party votes with near far-right rhetoric. He declared he was fully behind the Tory government policy of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda, that he would be tougher on people on welfare.
“There are more on unemployment benefit than there are job vacancies,” he said in Eastbourne. “We need to be Conservative about that, we need to reform welfare, to get these people to work.” That is one of the oldest bits of gripe heard in election speeches for generations now.
Rishi Sunak appears at hustings after hustings to offer a PR-processed menu of just about every cliché that a far-right Conservative voter might want to hear. The difficulty is that it does mostly sound like an assembled package worked out by a PR team working backwards from its idea of usual Conservative expectations.
Nothing wrong with that perhaps, except that it doesn’t seem to be working. It all sounds too relentlessly right, too much a package of right-wing deliverables of which he has made himself the mouthpiece.
A pity because genuinely embedded in all this are his plans for the economy. Rishi Sunak is spot on over the one issue that matters most. Conservative voters could hardy fail to see that he seems so much more convincing over this than Liz Truss.
Fresh warnings from the Bank of England have underlined the wisdom of his plans as opposed to those of Truss who is standing firm on dubious plans for tax cuts as a way out of inflation. And yet he has been falling further behind Truss.
Without doubt he has been up against a degree of prejudice going against him over his perceived foreign origins. Britain, and certainly the Conservative Party, may simply not be ready for some brown Obama moment. But Rishi Sunak is no more brown now than he was at the start of the campaign. Surely that alone has not been pushing him down.
The PR-packed presentation he is dishing has all that has been pre-determined to work. But it’s not quite delivering for him.
When the economy is debated, Rishi Sunak of course prevails with his argument. But together with winning that argument, his pre-ordered presentations are only losing him support among Tory members even though he says all the right things. Or even because he is only stringing together all he believes Tories will want to hear
— London Eye is a weekly column by CNBC-TV18’s Sanjay Suri, which gives a peek at business-as-unusual from London and around.
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