WHETHER a general election comes in the summer or later in the year, Rishi Sunak and the Conservative Party now face a herculean task to avoid anything but obliteration.
With predictions ranging from a hung parliament to a ’97-style landslide for the Labour Party, it is clear that the Tories have pursued a course of action and inaction which has done irreparable harm to the country and the public’s trust in its stewardship.
Where did it all go wrong? From a party that looked set to govern for generations and is historically the party of government, to the brink of electoral annihilation.
When Sunak took up residence in Number 10, he inherited a disastrous set of economic circumstances caused primarily by a short-sighted and draconian set of lockdown restrictions which accelerated a spiral of decline. Endless supplies of money, businesses forced to shut up shop and a country left on its knees. Sunak was not left with an easy job by his predecessors who clearly struggled to understand what the nation really needed.
Following Sunak’s anointment as Prime Minister, he outlined five pledges to get the country back on its feet economically and socially. These focused on reducing inflation and debt, growing the economy, cutting NHS waiting lists and stopping illegal boats crossing the Channel.
You have to wonder whether the fact the Conservative Party is now well over a decade into power and is focusing so intently on fixing the mess it has landed the country in, plays any part in the discontent so widely held among the public.
On the economy, Sunak has done what appears to be an admirable job in reducing inflation which peaked at around 11 per cent in October 2022. However, whether the country and the electorate actually feel this impact is a completely different question. The cost of living continues to bite, the IMF has slashed forecasts and UK wage growth has slowed again.
However, while Sunak may not have the tools at his disposal to deal with the position that Johnson, Hancock and Cummings put us in, you have only to look at recent history to see that there was a solution that the mainstream media could not bear. Lower taxes, reduced regulation and unleashing the potential of a post-Brexit economy would be an admirable place for a Conservative Prime Minister to begin. Only 18 months ago, Truss and Kwarteng attempted to do just this and were sold down the river by an establishment not willing for the difficult decisions to be made in the interest of the country.
While economic management, something the Conservative Party has traditionally prided itself on, has been a huge point of contention for the public, the Tories’ disastrous handling of illegal immigration from a public and parliamentary perspective should be seen as one of, if not the most important contributor to their failings.
The headline pledge to ‘Stop the Boats’ has been followed by record numbers of crossings, with Sunak presiding over some of the highest single days of illegal arrivals.
On the other side of the coin, the Prime Minister’s seemingly ill-fated plan to deport illegal immigrants to Rwanda has faced hurdles at every stage. In November, the UK Supreme Court ruled it to be unlawful, and the introduction of the Rwanda Bill in Parliament saw MPs from all sides of the House voice opposition to the legislation, some saying it doesn’t go far enough and others that it goes too far.
What the Prime Minister has failed to understand is that his immigration policy is predicated on stopping people from crossing the Channel at source and strategies relating to removing people when they get here. Neither of these is seen as a deterrent by those who seek to get to the UK. Removing financial and housing support by the government for illegal immigrants, however, would ensure that the UK is not seen as such an attractive option that people would navigate dangerous freezing waters to get here.
Fundamentally, however, the party never considered that unfettered immigration is affecting individuals on the lowest wages at a time when the average Brits feel as if their wallet is the lightest it has been in recent memory.
The Conservative Party is also missing a crucial point, and something that Sunak’s immigration policy has not just failed to address but actively ignored. This is the extraordinary tax burden on the skilled and wealthy in this country, and the anti-business environment that is causing and will continue to cause a mass exodus of those wealth-generating individuals who could help the country out of the dark times it is currently in.
Where it has gone wrong for Rishi Sunak and his Conservative Party is that he promised to fix things that he had no plan or strategy in place to achieve. His economic policy and thoughts on how to inject life into the UK economy have fallen flat and evidently not helped the people he is supposed to represent.
His ill-thought-out immigration strategy has failed to bring down the number of illegal migrants crossing the Channel and any real deterrents to prevent people from coming are either not coming to fruition or have been completely disregarded.
Is it too late for the Conservative Party to win a general election this year? Almost certainly. Will the Tories learn from their mistakes in government and hold Starmer to account in opposition? We can only hope so.