There are 18 months left in the natural lifespan of the current parliament at Westminster and for many Conservative Members of Parliament, that end can’t come soon enough.
Such is the air of decay and an inevitability that their party, which has been in power in the United Kingdom for the past 13 years, is now heading for a period on the Opposition benches. And the only question that needs answering on that is whether the party can be electorally competitive in either five or 10 years — one or two terms under the Fixed Elections Act that was introduced in 2011.
For starters, every opinion poll over these past 18 months has put Labour firmly ahead of the Conservatives. The margin has been as low as in the low double figures, more often than not, getting close to the high teens. Or higher.
And it seems that try as hard as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak does to focus on five key targets to attempt to reverse the dire Tory position and gain some — any — traction in growing support, the government is, in the minds of many, simply drifting, incapable of avoiding that inevitable collision with the iceberg.
Walking away from politics
When Boris Johnson led the party to victory in December 2019 on a promise to “get Brexit done”, his charisma managed to convince the electorate to return 380 Conservative MPs to Westminster, the largest majority for the party since the heady days of when Margaret Thatcher was taking on the unions and remaking the country in a free market model, where nationalised industries and council houses were sold off to shareholders on the stock market.
But that large majority has been whittled down through a steady string of by-election defeats to both Labour and the Liberal-Democrats as a result of voters simply fed up with the shenanigans and loss of control that occurred under Johnson and them Liz Truss — remember her and her 45 days in power?
It’s small wonder then that about a third of the Conservatives who were elected in that Boris sweep have already indicated that they are walking away from politics come the next general election.
There are several reasons, first and foremost that they see the impact of that electoral iceberg as being unavoidable — and no matter how many times Sunak rearranges the deck chairs, the ship is going down.
From Tory blue to Labour red
Secondly, under the current system in Westminster, roughly a third of the ruling party are on the Government’s purse — they have positions as junior ministers or other functionaries that enjoy increased salaries on top of their basic allowances and pay for being just an MP.
Who among us would willingly accept a pay cut back to basics if we had enjoyed the perks of power? In that regard, wanting to look for another job now is understandable.
And thirdly, after being in power under David Cameron, Theresa May, Johnson, Truss and Sunak, few now have the stomach for spending a protected time on the Opposition benches.
And then there is also the wider philosophical question of where the Conservatives are heading to after they face a thumping at the polls as soon as Sunak decides he’s had enough or it’s the best chance of not losing too badly at the ballot box.
Does it reinvent itself as some form of free marketeers with a social conscience? Take a hard-right turn and become the defenders of Little Britain? Become splintered in different small factions fighting under labels that solidify around Boris? Brexiteers who want a cosier relationship with Europe?
In the coming fortnight, Sunak will get a political reality check when the results of three by-elections are announced. All three seats, including that of Johnson, had safe majorities.
And such is the decline now in Conservative fortunes, that both Labour and the Lib Dems believe they can win. How embarrassing would it be for the former PM’s seat, Uxbridge and Ruislip, to turn from Tory blue to Labour red?
Decline in support
Six months ago, in an attempt to reset his party and focus the work of his cabinet and government, Sunak cabinet came with the notion of focusing the government’s priorities on five key areas — topics where they might get ‘easy wins’ with voters and redress some of that decline in support.
They were to half inflation, grow the economy, cut waiting lists in hospitals, cut government debt and stop the small boats crossing the Channel.
If the voters in those three constituencies are to vote solely on how Sunak has performed in those five areas … put it this way — the lifeboats will already be full.
Halving inflation? The latest statistics show the inflationary rate remains stubbornly high, at 7.9 per cent in May, up from 7.8 per cent in April. It was 8.8 per cent in January when Sunak made the promise to cut it.
Debt? For the first time since 1961, the UK now owes £1.01 for every £1 in the economy. That’s up from the £0.94 on the pound in January.
Waiting lists? The NHS reports that cancer patients, for instance, are now facing longer waiting times than ever for a disease where timely diagnosis and treatment is key to a successful outcome.
Growing the economy? According to the OECD, the UK’s economy will only grow by 0.3 per cent in 2023, or by 1.0 per cent by the end of 2024. So yes, right now, that’s a technical win for Sunak. But just wait until a million British households face an average monthly increase of £500 on their mortgage bill in the coming months.
And stopping those boats? The courts have ruled Sunak’s proposal to ship asylum claimants to Rwanda while awaiting processing is illegal. That decision is being appealed. Life jackets anyone?