The Citizen (KZN)

PM ‘can’t catch break’


- London

Faces criticism of many things, from his shoes to new laws.

He’s failed to meet key pledges, hit an opinion poll low, and even cramped the style of a popular Adidas shoe: Britain’s beleaguere­d Conservati­ve Party leader Rishi Sunak appears destined to lose a looming general election.

Two tax cuts and a slightly improving economy have failed to boost his political fortunes, while criticism from ex-prime minister Boris Johnson and speculatio­n over Brexit figurehead Nigel Farage’s intentions are adding to his woes.

Political scientist Rob Ford said Sunak has been left looking “hapless” in the face of seemingly unstoppabl­e political momentum away from his ruling Tories: “When the herd moves, it moves. There’s not much you can do.”

Sunak has yet to announce the date of the election. He is expected to call it for October or November but is legally allowed to wait until January at the latest.

Surveys show Britons want an end to 14 years of Tory rule, and nothing he has done appears to be changing their minds.

A YouGov poll released this month found the Conservati­ves would win just 155 seats in the UK parliament, down from the 365 they won under Johnson at the last election in December 2019.

Keir Starmer’s opposition Labour Party would win 403 seats, the same survey found, leading to a whopping 154-seat majority.

“Right now, it’s very difficult to see how the Conservati­ves remain in government after the next election simply because of the scale of shift they need,” said Keiran Pedley, director of politics at polling firm Ipsos.

Sunak succeeded Liz Truss in October 2022 after Tory MPs forced her out following a disastrous 49 days in office, during which her mini-budget spooked financial markets, sank the pound and sent mortgage payments skywards.

She had followed Johnson, who had been defenestra­ted by colleagues following a series of scandals.

While the turmoil of the two previous administra­tions has hamstrung Sunak, political analysts say he has also contribute­d to his own plight by falling short on promises and failing to connect with voters.

Despite promising to, he has not stopped migrants arriving from France on small boats. National Health Service waiting lists are higher than when he took office. Economic growth is stagnant, although inflation has more than halved.

Sunak has also tried a number

of leadership and policy resets that have fallen flat, including watering down carbon net zero commitment­s in a pitch to motorists and recently talking about extremism.

The rightward tilt comes as the fringe Reform UK party threatens to deprive the Conservati­ves of key seats, particular­ly if Farage stands for them as he has teased.

“[Sunak has] been trying to find this magic wand or silver bullet to turn things around but at the moment none of it seems to be moving the dial,” said Pedley.

An Ipsos poll published in March found 58% of voters view the Conservati­ves unfavourab­ly, the highest percentage this parliament. Only 19% view them favourably.

The survey gave Sunak a net favourabil­ity rating of minus 38, the lowest of any politician included.

Critics often accuse the wealthy ex-financier of being out of touch with average Britons.

“He is a combinatio­n of being rather awkward and nerdy, and then if challenged he always sounds really irritable,” Ford, politics professor at Manchester University, said.

Sunak is striving to revive his party’s fortunes, traversing the country to meet voters amid rumours that a disastrous showing in local elections on 2 May could spark a leadership challenge.

He can’t seem to catch a break, though.

Last week, Johnson slammed his proposed comprehens­ive smoking ban as “nuts”, while his spokespers­on had to deny he was preparing to run an artificial intelligen­ce fund in the event of election defeat.

Sunak even offered a “fulsome apology to the Samba community” after photograph­s of him wearing the Adidas trainers sparked headlines like: “Eight trainers to wear now that Rishi has killed Sambas”.

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