• Development Intelligence

The Party Politics of Sunak’s Government

Every commentator has been busy writing long lists of the challenges facing Rishi Sunak: cabinet formation encompassing all the Tory factions, impressing markets with a balanced budget, unpopular tax rises/spending cuts, taming inflation, helping Ukraine, fixing the NI Protocol, targeting illegal channel crossings, the list goes on and on. But what about the party politics of his next two years?

The brutal truth is that with Labour now around 30 points clear in the polls and the Tories’ reputation for competence shredded by Boris and Truss, a realistic take is that Rishi’s party political task is to make the potential defeat at the next General Election less bad. At this time, a fifth term looks rather out of sight. Not completely impossible, but very unlikely.

So how should Rishi play the politics? Let’s call it ‘Operation Clawback’.

1. Understand who could possibly still vote Tory in late 2024 and why

We don’t need to look too hard to get to the bottom of this. The brilliant Professor Matt Goodwin from Kent University has done all the research into the broad coalition of voters that gave Boris his 80 seat landslide in December 2019 and has clearly identified exactly which issues excited them to vote Tory last time around. Start there.

2. Overlay that 2019 Tory voter agenda with popular issues where the Labour Party are on the wrong side of public opinion

That shouldn’t be too hard because there is considerable similarity between the items on both lists! In simple terms it’s all about delivering Brexit freedoms, levelling up and tackling illegal migration. Rishi’s Government needs to bear down on those targets with a clear and loudly trumpeted plan, oft repeated. They have two years to deliver. Time is short. They need significant movement and some high profile wins. This is the ‘wedge issues’ approach that Blair and Brown were so good at: find the popular points of difference, then ram them home repeatedly. There are some obvious issues we can already identify.

First up, how could the Tories weaponize the ‘war on wokeness’? There are a load of issues there where the Labour Party are all over the place and massively out of step with public opinion. Legislation forcing universities to enshrine freedom of speech in all their and their student bodies’ activities. Legislation tackling cancel culture more widely. Booting Stonewall and its pro-trans protection racket out of every government institution. New tough laws to lock up loony activists gluing themselves to things, or desecrating buildings or statues etc with a mandatory sentence for inconveniencing the public; anything that publicly and repeatedly locks up Extinction Rebellion activists and all its offshoots would be massively popular and would make Labour squirm.

Next, what about targeting and continually exposing Labour’s financial reliance on the public sector unions. Push much harder on legislation tackling the endless ransom of coordinated public sector strikes. Labour would be forced to repeatedly defend the unions during the course of the next year or so whilst their comrades are causing daily chaos to ordinary voters’ lives.

What about specifically targeting the highly political self ID/trans issue? What further actions could Rishi’s Government take via legislation? In any case, how about every Tory MP publicly declaring what a women is, forcing that question to be asked of Labour frontbenchers every time they are interviewed?

On illegal immigration, if the Rwanda plan has stalled in the courts and is deemed too unpopular to push any more right now, then how about legislation massively simplifying and reducing the asylum application process. Make it a much simpler, sharper process with one limited appeal that takes weeks or months not the current five years. Let Labour be on the wrong side of that debate.

Whilst Starmer has recently tried to rule out any possibility of an accommodation with the SNP, bear down on that issue loudly. Bank the (hopefully) forthcoming Supreme Court ruling on the UK Government’s right to uniquely authorise #indyref2 and then make a clear statement ruling it out again until 2040 at the earliest, a ‘generation away’ quoting the SNP’s words at the time of the 2014 referendum right back at them. Meanwhile, throw love at the Scottish people, in the words of Stephen Daisley in his recent Spectator article:

“…legislate national solutions even in devolved areas…integrate Scotland more closely with the rest of the country, including by bold measures such as moving a major government department to Glasgow or Aberdeen, or building a world-leading UK cancer research facility in Dundee.”

3. Create future bear traps for the next Labour government

Assuming that Labour gains office, what political landmines can the Tories lay for them to make their time in office much harder, more complicated and thus perhaps shorter? Think how Gordon Brown’s top rate of tax trap, delivered in New Labour’s final month in office, is still causing problems for the Tories now more than 12 years later. Set up a ‘bear trap unit’ in CCHQ to work on this right now.

The politics of Rishi’s time in office is of course a second order item to the immediate economic crisis. But the Tories desperately need to start thinking through longer term strategies rather than endlessly being buffeted by immediate problems fixed with short-term tactical solutions.