Rishi Sunak, who became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom about a year ago, faces a shrinking window of opportunity to complete an increasingly Herculean task: maintaining his Conservatives in power at the next election.
Sunak will finish the party’s annual convention next Wednesday with a keynote address aimed at rallying his ruling Conservatives to the huge challenge set by the campaign, which is anticipated to take place sometime next year.
Labour, which has been in opposition since 2010 but has maintained double-digit poll leads throughout his term, will follow suit a week later.
Sunak, 43, who behind Labour leader Keir Starmer in personal popularity polls, needs little encouragement to get on an election footing after a recent spate of populist policy speeches, announcements, and leaks.
They include the announcement of a five-year delay in the end of new petrol and diesel automobile sales, as well as the mandatory replacement of gas-fired boilers.
Sunak slammed “unacceptable” expenditures on families facing a serious cost-of-living crisis, vowing to “change the way our politics works” and make “different decisions.”
Meanwhile, interior minister Suella Braverman slammed the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention, a cornerstone of international refugee protection, as inadequate for the present period on Monday.
It comes as Britain works to prevent tens of thousands of migrants from arriving on its southeastern coastlines aboard small boats from northern France each year.
Last month, the government also announced measures to reduce the use of gender-neutral toilets, which opponents said was a transparent attempt to galvanize the Conservative Party’s grassroots over a so-called “culture war” issue.
“There is a degree of populism about what he’s doing,” said Tim Bale, politics professor at Queen Mary University of London and author of a new book on post-Brexit Tory infighting.
“I think he has to do that, he feels and his advisors feel, to give them any chance of winning the next election.”
Sunak, a multi-millionaire former investment banker and hedge fund worker of Indian ancestry, has risen quickly through the political ranks in a country where becoming an MP generally takes at least a decade.
He was only 39 when he was first elected as an MP in 2015, three years later he became a government minister, and three years later he was appointed finance minister under ex-premier Boris Johnson. He became Prime Minister at the age of 42.
Throughout his Brexit campaign, he has declared himself a conventional low-tax, low-spending Conservative, although he has remained somewhat ambiguous to certain political pundits.
“I’ve never heard him justify his vote for Brexit”, said Anand Menon, professor of European politics at King’s College London.
“When he’s been a minister, it’s been impossible to figure out what his deep beliefs were because he was a minister in a time of crisis.”
Despite his fondness for former Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who advocated for cutting government spending, he provided billions of dollars in financial assistance during the pandemic.
Meanwhile, Sunak has worked to display prudence and discipline in his first year in Downing Street, following the upheaval of Johnson’s scandal-plagued three-year term and the financial storm caused by the short-lived Liz Truss administration.
Plaudits credit him with returning British politics to a degree of normality, but critics — including within his own party — see a scheming opportunist.
“He hasn’t really made any terrible mistakes,” noted Mark Garnett, a UK politics specialist at the University of Lancaster.
“On the world stage you can tell why Mr Sunak has improved Britain’s very bad reputation because people will say this is a serious politician,” he added.
Branding him “an extremely flexible, pragmatic operator”, Garnett said Sunak’s main aim clearly remained keeping the Tories in power.
“He has… between now and the election to appeal to the people who have now abandoned the Conservative Party, try to bring them back on board, he added.
“So he has got a horribly difficult act to pull off.”
For Bale, with Britain’s economy still rocky and the cherished public health service “collapsing”, it would take a “miracle” for Sunak and his Conservatives to prevail.