In a Downing Street office last week, under the glare of chandeliers and a large television screen, Rishi Sunak wore a look of despair during a conference call.
Britain’s prime minister complained to close aides that his government never gets credit for taking tough decisions in the public interest, two people present said on condition of anonymity. Sunak added: He had picked up the pieces after his predecessor Liz Truss brought the UK economy to the brink of catastrophe, and his focus on fighting inflation was to prevent disaster with little political gain, he said.
It was a rare unexpected moment for the usually upbeat prime minister – who looked even less subdued in this week’s session of Prime Minister’s Questions. Sunak is feeling the heat after a month that exposed the dire state of Britain’s economy, which is mired in persistent inflation, rising interest rates burning mortgage-holders, and a looming recession.
This week brought more shocks: the possible collapse of London’s water supplier and a court ruling that found the government’s flagship policy of deporting migrants in Rwanda was illegal. Then on Friday, as Sunak was making a major health care staffing announcement, his climate minister resigned, criticizing the prime minister’s environmental record.
As a general election approaches in January 2025, it is becoming increasingly difficult for Sunak to turn things around for his ruling Conservatives and extend Labour’s double-digit polling lead, which has grown from 16 to 22 points in three weeks Is. YouGov.
He has asked voters to rate him on five pledges: halving inflation, boosting the economy, cutting the national debt, reducing National Health Service waiting lists and stopping asylum-seeker boats crossing the English Channel Stop. In all of them he risks failure.
One minister told Bloomberg that the prime minister is a fundamentally decent man who is trying to do the right thing for the country without any reward.
Another stressed that there is no choice but to reduce inflation, a challenge faced by economies around the world following the COVID pandemic and Russia’s war in Ukraine, even if it means higher interest rates and higher inflation. Recession pain. He said any responsible politician, including Labor leader Keir Starmer, would do the same thing.
This is an argument that may have at least some truth in it. In private, Labor officials admit they would make similar macroeconomic decisions if voted to power now.
That’s no consolation to Sunak amid widespread public discontent with the Tories after 13 years in power.
With political and economic data headed in the wrong direction, Sunak will face big decisions over the summer that could determine whether he can lift his party’s fortunes in the second half of the year.
One is whether and how to refresh our top team. Some in Downing Street have argued for a cabinet reshuffle ahead of the summer break. But a person familiar with the matter said it is most likely to come in the first fortnight of September. This is because the party first has to deal with three special elections in late July.
This week, the potential collapse of Thames Water reignited awkward conversations about the Conservative record on privatization and the issue of toxic sewage being dumped into rivers by water companies.
This has led several ministers to speculate privately that Environment Secretary Therese Coffey – a Truss confidant – could come under attack following the reshuffle. A colleague of Coffey’s insisted that he inherited a department with huge problems, and in the last six months he had been assigned significant assignments.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s capacity was also in focus after an appeals court ruled against her department’s controversial plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda. Sunak is expected to keep him in office, said a person familiar with the matter.
However, Tory right-wingers suggested that he could resign if the government’s appeal to the Supreme Court failed and Sunak refused to commit to pulling Britain out of the European Convention on Human Rights, which is impeding Rwanda policy. Can give
The speculation about the future of Coffey and Braverman is symptomatic of a wider government malaise, with ministers anonymously criticizing their colleagues’ performance.
Some criticized Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch for dousing the so-called firestorm of EU laws after Brexit. An aide dismissed his critics as a fringe group of hardline Brexiters.
And despite Friday’s announcement of a long-term workforce plan for the National Health Service, some ministers are overwhelmed by Health Secretary Steve Barclay, with Britons still facing record waiting times for treatment.
Downing Street wants to boost young women, with children’s minister Claire Coutinho and pensions minister Laura Trott among contenders for promotion.
The changes Sunak makes to his cabinet will define another live question: Tory electoral strategy.
The right wing of the party – and some in government – want her to campaign to leave the ECHR, saying a return to Brexit-style arguments would clearly alienate her from Labor and allow her to accuse Starmer of being soft on immigration .
Other Tories are viewing threats to leave the ECHR as impractical and potentially destroying Sunak’s hard-earned credibility with other international leaders.
Those MPs say Sunak’s best hope is to move away from policies that satisfy the right wing, instead using a more moderate platform to target middle-class voters in the south of England who vote Liberal Democrats. considering giving.
But the real decider of the content of the election manifesto will be the economy, said a government official. This means that it remains uncertain