Imagine you’re Rishi Sunak.
You’re the third prime minister in the past six months and you’re the fifth Tory prime minister in thirteen years of continuous Tory government. You’re twenty-plus points back in the polls, less than two years away from an election, and only a few months on from an episode - the Truss Interregnum - that nearly tanked Britain’s economy.
What do you do?
Moreover, what do you do when the biggest issue in politics and governance is the sense that nothing works and no-one can get anything done. Looking around, your Cabinet isn’t made out of your best wood and no one out there really believes a word you say about what you’re doing anyway?
What does Sunak say about that?
The answer is: nothing. He should say nothing. Sunak and the Tories don’t have a saying problem, they have a doing problem. So the answer is to show, not tell. To survive, the Tories must demonstrate maturity and competence. And this appears to be what Prime Minister Sunak is doing.
First, he and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt reassured the markets by presenting an Autumn Statement that was safety-first. A similar message of safety is now being broadcast ahead of next month’s budget. As a result, the markets have stabilised and inflation is trending downward.
And now Sunak appears to have removed the sharpest Brexit thorn from his party’s side with the new Windsor framework on Northern Ireland. The deal is still fresh, and might not work in the long run, but the early returns are promising. If Prime Minister Sunak can deep-six most mentions of Brexit before the election he will have greatly improved his party’s chances of: a) staying united; and b) winning.
To get any electoral deal over the line, however, Prime Minister Sunak must keep demonstrating competence. A deal on small boats, anyone?
If Sunak can eek out an arrangement with France on the question of small boats he would take *the* major remaining irritant for his party’s supporters off the table, including those members who much prefer the cut of Boris Johnson’s jib.
More importantly, if Sunak can keep demonstrating his competence he will go a long way toward getting a look-in from the broader electorate. People might not like the Tories much these days, but they like competence on any day, especially after the torrid patch we’ve been through with Brexit, Covid, and the Truss-inspired market chaos.
Whisper it quietly but, via competence and delivery, Rishi Sunak might just have found his winning message.