Rishi Sunak’s appearance at the Liaison Committee earlier this week had us thinking “where has the Prime Minister been?” The newest occupant of No.10 seems to have made a conscious decision to keep a low-profile over recent weeks.
It’s not hard to think why his team might be going above and beyond to keep Sunak out of the media spotlight at the moment. Between mass strikes bringing rail, post, and health services to a near halt, as well as freezing temperatures coupled with sky-rocketing energy bills, it’s not something you would choose to be associated with if you can help it.
The No.10 operation seems to be thinking this as well; whilst Ministers have been sent on the broadcast rounds to take on the likes of Mick Lynch and Pat Cullen, there has been relative silence on the matter from the Prime Minister himself.
Economists are estimating that the UK is due to lose 1.5 million working days in December alone due to strikes, making it the worst month for disruption since July 1989. One might have thought - given all the Thatcher rhetoric we got during this summer’s leadership contest - that Rishi would be chomping at the bit to brandish his best Thatcherite characteristics and take the unions on head-on.
Instead, Rishi seems to be opting for the ‘submarine strategy’ we saw Boris Johnson and Theresa May occasionally attempt - where they were kept out of the media spotlight apart from carefully orchestrated appearances and interventions. In this way, Sunak is (ideally) saved from being associated with the winter of discontent that rages on.
But are there signs that this strategy is paying off for the Prime Minister? Potentially.
Whilst Labour are still leading the Conservative Party in the polls by a long-way, recent figures from IPOS suggest that it is much closer when you just look at Rishi vs. Keir. The latest Ipos Political Pulse shows that Rishi Sunak is just trailing behind the Labour leader when it comes to favourability ratings, with Starmer sitting on a net score of -6 compared to Sunak’s -10. In the first six weeks or so since Sunak took office, Labour’s average lead is down from 30 to 20 points, and Starmer’s lead as “best Prime Minister” is down from a high of 29 points under Truss, to just five under Sunak.
Will it work long-term though? Attempts at the submarine strategy don’t seem to have worked out too well for Rishi’s predecessors…