Rishi Sunak celebrated his first anniversary as Prime Minister this week – and was handed the gift of another challenging by-election as yet another Conservative MP was suspended from the House of Commons for ‘misconduct’.
This will inevitably lead to a recall petition in said MPs constituency. Peter Bone has represented the seat of Wellingborough since 2005 and won at the last General Election in 2019 with a healthy majority of 18,500.
In ordinary times, the Tories would give themselves a fighting chance of holding the seat. However, if Labour can overturn a majority north of 24,000 in a place like Mid Bedfordshire, as they did last week, then Wellingborough will be seen a shoo-in.
Keir Starmer also celebrated his party’s successes in Wandsworth last Thursday – overcoming a 19,000 Conservative margin to win that seat – and an impressive victory in a Scottish by-election earlier in October.
It is an incredible run of gains for Labour – or losses for Rishi Sunak, depending on your point of view.
It would be hard to imagine a Tory PM surviving such a turgid set of results. But the one thing Sunak can comfort himself with is that even the Conservative Party would not be brass necked enough to sack another party leader. He will be the man who leads them into the next General Election, weather they like it or not – and for many of them it is ‘not’.
He was not supported by a very large section of his party activists, and even his attempts to keep the right of his party happy with a rowing back on environmental policies, his cancellation of HS2, and his tough talk on immigration, has failed to placate his fiercest critics.
As he reflects on his twelve months in Number Ten, I wonder if he regrets moving from the centre ground of politics – where he was certainly perceived to be by most – and moving towards the more populist elements of his party?
His re-positioning as pro-car, anti-green; the cancellation of HS2; and his silence on the toxic nature of his Home Secretary’s pronouncements on immigration have seen his personal poll ratings dip, whilst his party still has a 20-point deficit against Labour.
If he loses the General Election in 2024 – or as some are speculating January 2025 – I suspect he will think ‘I should have done it my way’?