100 Days Of Rishi Sunak, And The Tories Are Still In Crisis

How's that "integrity, professionalism and accountability" thing working out?
Rishi Sunak has been British Prime Minister for 100 days.
Rishi Sunak has been British Prime Minister for 100 days.
Illustration: Chris McGonigal/HuffPost; Photo: Getty Images

First, the good news for Rishi Sunak.

Today is his 100th day as prime minister, meaning he has managed to last twice as long in Downing Street as Liz Truss.

Now for the bad news.

There is little sign yet that Sunak’s attempts to put the chaos and controversy of the Truss and Boris Johnson eras behind him and the government are bearing fruit.

Despite famously promising “integrity, professionalism and accountability” on his first day in the job, Sunak’s government has been just as bogged down by scandal and in-fighting as his predecessors’.

He was eventually forced to sack Nadhim Zahawi as Tory Party chairman after he was found to have breached the ministerial code multiple times over a probe into his tax affairs.

And pressure is mounting on deputy prime minister Dominic Raab over the multiple bullying allegations he faces from civil servants who have worked for him in the past.

Meanwhile, the row over an £800,000 credit facility agreed by Johnson and a distant Canadian relative, and BBC chairman Richard Sharp’s role in facilitating it, rumbles on in the background.

Truss supporters continue to pile pressure on Jeremy Hunt to cut taxes in the forthcoming Budget, something both he and Sunak have repeatedly ruled out.

And Sunak even managed to get himself a police fine - his second in less than a year - for failing to wear a seatbelt while filming a video in the back of his ministerial car.

No wonder, then, that successive opinion polls show that Labour remains miles ahead of the Conservatives.

Tory MPs are growing increasingly concerned that Sunak is simply unable to turn around their fortunes and that the next general election is already a lost cause unless something - or someone - dramatic turns up.

“I think most voters, when they think of Rishi, will probably think ‘nice’, ‘competent’ and ‘managerial’,” one former cabinet minister told HuffPost UK.

“But that only gets you so far because you need to be tough as well, and the Zahawi stuff will make a lot of people think he can’t take the tough decisions.

“We were also told that making Rishi leader would end all of the chaos we saw under Boris and Liz. Well, how is that looking? I mean, if you take away his big selling point, that he would calm everything down, what are you left with?”

Sunak’s reluctance to face down his own MPs, leading to a series of embarrassing U-turns, has also done little to convince his internal critics that he is the right man for the job.

“If I wanted to call Wednesday ‘Banana Day’ and got enough MPs to support it, we’d suddenly have a new calendar. Then again, every day is Banana Day with the government at the moment.”

One senior backbencher said: “On the one hand, I can understand why he doesn’t want to have constant battles with his MPs. But we’ve ended up in a situation where we don’t actually know what the government stands for.

“One week we’re in favour of onshore windfarms because enough Tory MPs support it, then the next week we’re against building more houses. There’s no clear strategy.

“If I wanted to call Wednesday ‘Banana Day’ and got enough MPs to support it, we’d suddenly have a new calendar. Then again, every day is Banana Day with the government at the moment.”

In an attempt to get on the front foot, Sunak made a major speech two weeks ago setting out the five promises on which he wants his government to be judged at the general election.

As well as halving inflation, cutting NHS waiting lists and growing the economy, the PM pledged to “stop the small boats” carrying asylum seekers across the English Channel from France.

Home secretary Suella Braverman will introduce a bill later this month aimed at bringing that plan to fruition.

One former minister said meeting the small boats pledge is Sunak’s last chance to turn things round.

“In order to do it, he needs to be prepared to pull the UK out of the European Convention on Human rights,” they said. “Is he prepared to do that? I have my doubts.

“The best result we can get on the economy now is a score draw with Labour, so stopping the boats is the only thing that can win us the election. If we don’t, the Reform Party will have a field day.”

That is a reference to Nigel Farage’s latest political vehicle, the former Brexit Party threatening to stand candidates in seats across the country.

“They won’t win any seats, but they could take enough votes away from us to hand Labour a landslide,” said one worried Tory backbencher.

Other Conservatives are less gloomy, and are at least willing to give Sunak a chance to come good.

Another ex-Cabinet minister said: “The reality is there is no alternative to Rishi, so we need to get behind him.

“The seat belt thing was a cock-up, but by and large he’s brought calm to the government, after the chaos of the previous regimes.

“We’re at least back in the game as far as the next election’s concerned. Labour now have to work to win it, which wasn’t the case before.”

“We are all awaiting the May election results to see if Rishi is resonating positively on the doorsteps,” said one senior backbencher.

“I don’t think the public have made up their minds about him yet, whatever the polls might say.”

That may be changing, however. HuffPost UK has learned that focus groups of voters carried out by Labour in recent days have shown that the public’s dim view of Sunak is hardening.

“The last two weeks - the seat belt stuff, Zahawi and the government’s general uselessness has really resonated,” said a source.

“There was a lot of ‘what an idiot’, ‘not up to the job’, that sort of thing.

“Not sacking Zahawi straight away could end up being a defining mistake. He probably had a window to show decisiveness and to differentiate himself on sleaze and scandal, but he blew it.”

After just 100 days, it is obviously far too early to call time on Sunak just yet.

But it is already clear that without a dramatic improvement in his performance, his premiership will end just as badly as his two predecessors.


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