As 2024 dawned, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak might have believed the worst was behind him. The Conservative Party’s internal disunity seemed to be resolving, and there were signs of economic recovery.
However, recent developments have painted a different picture. Two devastating polls have emerged, one predicting the Tories to win a mere 169 seats in the next election, a historic low since 1906. Another poll placed the Conservatives at 20%, a staggering 27 points behind Labour.
This decline is not just a reflection of the party’s 13-year governance but also Sunak’s plummeting popularity.
Sunak’s Plummeting Popularity
Recent polls have been unkind to Sunak. A YouGov poll in December showed his favorability rating at -49, nearly as low as Boris Johnson’s during the Partygate scandal. Morning Consult gave him a 36% approval rating, making him one of Europe’s least popular leaders.
This dissatisfaction culminated in former Conservative Minister Simon Clarke publicly demanding Sunak’s resignation, citing “uninspiring leadership” and warning of an “election massacre.”
The Initial Promise of Sunak’s Leadership
When Sunak first took office, he wasn’t faring too badly in the polls. He was seen as more decisive and effective than the wider Conservative Party. About a month into his term, he had a net strength rating of 11%, compared to the party’s -48.8%.
He was also perceived as more trustworthy and competent. The key question was whether the Tory polling average would rise to meet Sunak’s initial ratings or if his would fall to align with the party’s. Unfortunately for Sunak, it was the latter.
The Reasons Behind Sunak’s Decline
Media Struggles and Lack of Strategy
Rishi Sunak’s journey as Prime Minister has been rocky, primarily due to two critical issues: his handling of the media and an unclear political strategy. Initially, Sunak was lauded for his economic initiatives during the pandemic and his adeptness at media engagement.
However, as time progressed, his response to criticism revealed a different side. Sunak’s tendency to become defensive, coupled with several public missteps (like the contactless card incident), painted a picture of a leader not entirely comfortable under fire.
Fluctuating Between Technocrat and Populist
A significant part of Sunak’s political narrative revolves around his shifting image. At the outset, he positioned himself as a pragmatic, economically astute leader, a breath of fresh air after the tumultuous Johnson and Truss tenures.
But as the Conservative Party’s popularity failed to rally, Sunak seemed to pivot towards a more populist approach. This shift, especially his stance on immigration and the controversial Rwanda policy, appeared to be an attempt to resonate with a broader base.
However, this oscillation between the roles of a technocrat and a populist has left many questioning his true political identity and intentions.
Looking Ahead: Sunak’s Road Filled with Hurdles
Sunak’s tenure, thus far, has been anything but smooth sailing. He stepped into a role fraught with challenges, both within his party and in the broader political landscape.
His approach to these challenges, while well-intentioned, hasn’t always hit the mark, leading to a sense of uncertainty about the future of his leadership and the Conservative Party.
As the political climate continues to evolve, Sunak’s ability to adapt, while staying true to his leadership style, will be crucial in navigating the complex waters of British politics.