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30 November 2022

How long can Rishi Sunak hold on to No 10?

Divided parties don’t win elections – and, as Sunak is discovering, they cannot effectively govern either.

By Rachel Wearmouth

The Labour leader, Keir Starmer, will have a hard time choosing which criticisms of Rishi Sunak to focus on at PMQs today (30 November).

The Prime Minister is preparing to make a U-turn on banning onshore wind, amid a threatened rebellion led by the former minister Simon Clarke and backed by Liz Truss and Boris Johnson. It comes not long after Sunak was forced to delay a vote on planning reforms as blue wall Tories were concerned they would lose their seats over unwanted development. And although the government denied there were plans for a Swiss-style deal with the EU, Sunak was forced to make clear it was not on the table amid, you guessed it, a threatened rebellion.

The Prime Minister is unable to impose his will on the Conservative Party as MPs fear defeat is inevitable for the party overall but they want to want to avoid individual complicity in it.

How long Sunak can keep this up? In all likelihood, he will refuse to give up on turning his party’s prospects around, despite its downward trajectory in the polls. And, after the brief tenure of Truss, he will want to serve the lengthiest term possible.

But Labour is not ruling out a snap poll. At a meeting of its ruling National Executive Committee on 29 November, senior figures agreed that the party would delay reorganising activists around forthcoming changes to constituency boundaries until the summer.

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Some think that any tightening in the polls could lead Sunak to trigger an election in the spring, and all resources are being pumped into planning. “Everyone is fundraising like crazy. It’s gone up by several gears,” said one Labour source. “Everyone is acting like we have to be ready just in case.”

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The rate of inflation is predicted to fall next year and Sunak has vowed to resolve the Northern Ireland protocol issue by April. Both events could be critical moments.

Divided parties don’t win elections – and, as Sunak is discovering, they cannot effectively govern either.

[See also: Keir Starmer’s mildly authoritarian streak chimes perfectly with these troubled times]

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