In a political landscape where a first year in office is traditionally a time of celebration, Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, is marking this milestone with a daunting path to retaining power, facing a general election expected next year.
The recent two by-election losses to the main opposition Labour Party emphasize the challenges Sunak, at 43 years old, has encountered in rejuvenating the Conservative Party’s fortunes during his initial 12 months at the helm.
Tim Bale, an author specializing in right-wing Conservatives post-Brexit, stated, “The more people see of Sunak, the less they like him in some ways,” remarking on Sunak’s struggle to project authority and control over events, often appearing to shift from one policy initiative to another in an effort to win favor with the electorate.
Sunak assumed the role of Prime Minister on October 25, 2022, following the turbulent 49-day premiership of Liz Truss, who faced criticism for her handling of the UK economy and her party’s ratings.
Truss had taken over from Boris Johnson, who resigned amid a series of scandals, including lockdown-breaking parties at his official residence during the Covid pandemic.
While political expert Richard Hayton acknowledged that Sunak had managed to quell factional disputes within the Conservative Party and restore some credibility to the Prime Minister’s office, he also noted Sunak’s challenge in articulating a coherent and compelling vision for his premiership that resonates with voters.
As the centre-left Labour Party has enjoyed a consistent double-digit lead in voter surveys for over a year, politics lecturer David Jeffery opined that Sunak’s efforts have fallen short of what is needed. He stressed that when you are 15 to 20 points behind in the polls, the goal should be recovery, not just steadying the ship.
Sunak faces considerable difficulty in fulfilling the five flagship year-long policy priorities he set in January, which include halving inflation, growing the economy, and addressing immigration concerns.
Inflation remains stubbornly high at 6.7 percent, economic growth is minimal, and the issue of migrants crossing the English Channel from France remains unresolved.
Sunak has been challenged to fulfill his earlier pledges, and his approval ratings have reached record lows.
Attempting to position himself as a candidate of change, Sunak adopted a stance against Labour leader Keir Starmer, even though the Conservatives have been in power since 2010.
Sunak championed motorists, rolled back green energy policies, and scrapped part of a costly high-speed rail link, but these moves failed to significantly alter his approval ratings.
After two notable losses in previously secure Tory seats, Sunak appears to be running out of time ahead of an election that must take place by January 2025.
While some experts believe Sunak’s best chance for securing a fifth consecutive term for the Conservative Party lies in an uptick in the economy that eases the cost-of-living crisis, others anticipate him stoking “culture war” issues and increasing personal attacks on Keir Starmer.
Nevertheless, some believe that voters may have already made up their minds about Sunak and the Conservatives, seeking a change that neither may provide.
In this complex political landscape, Rishi Sunak’s ability to maintain power remains in question as he navigates the challenges of his first year as the UK Prime Minister.