Things are not going well for Rishi Sunak.
The British prime minister has only been in office since October, but already his defeat at the next general election seems inevitable. A nationwide vote must be held by January 2025 at the latest and the latest opinion polls suggest Sunak’s Conservatives are 18 points behind the opposition Labour Party.
Every passing week seems to deliver more bad news for Sunak.
In early May, the Conservatives were routed at local council elections, losing over 1,000 seats, and seeing Labour overtake them as the largest party of local government.
Soon afterwards several of Sunak’s MPs, including his former deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab, announced they will retire at the next election, with many speculating this was to avoid the humiliation of losing their seats.
The latest controversy surrounds Britain’s long-awaited independent inquiry into the government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, with Downing Street attempting to block the inquiry’s access to sensitive data that might incriminate the prime minister.
To outside observers, Sunak looks increasingly desperate. Though he presents as more polished and less chaotic than his two immediate predecessors, Liz Truss and Boris Johnson, British voters seem unconvinced.
How have things gone wrong for Sunak so quickly, and is there any hope that he might yet survive?
A troubled inheritance
Many of the problems facing the Conservative Party under his stewardship were not wholly of Sunak’s making.
He only became Prime Minister in October because of the disastrously brief reign of Liz Truss, who had originally beaten Sunak to the Conservative Party leadership seven weeks earlier. Truss oversaw a series of economic crises brought about by a ‘mini budget’ that introduced Britain’s largest tax cuts since 1972, prompting soaring mortgage costs and a slump in Sterling.
The crisis generated serious unease among Conservative MPs, who forced Truss to resign after just 49 days in office, opening the door for Sunak.
But the new prime minister didn’t just have to deal with this economic legacy, he also had to contend with the reverberations from Boris Johnson’s time in office, who Truss had replaced.