Rishi finally makes a choice
Since he became Prime Minister Sunak has been trying to run a dual political strategy. On the one hand he wanted to look competent and sensible to home counties Tory voters horrified by the chaos of Johnson and Truss: fiscally cautious, focused on meaningful policy pledges, and developing long-term policy ideas. On the other, he wanted to continue appealing to the new voters the Conservatives won in 2019 by offering authoritarian policies on immigration along with rhetorical attacks on “wokeness”.
As I noted back in March “the immigration and culture war announcements are explicitly known as Track B within No 10.” While this two-track approach was politically understandable it always risked the appearance of incoherence and pleasing no one. A few days after Sunak took over in October I wrote:
“The danger for him is he ends up with the worse of both worlds. Abandoned by Cameroonian liberals because of support for policies like the Rwanda deportations, and by Brexit voters unhappy with crumbling health services and decaying public infrastructure. It’s hard to see what the positive offer to either group of voters is going to be.”
It was clear from the start that the single biggest weakness in the strategy was the appointment of Suella Braverman as home secretary. In that same piece I said:
“Braverman simply isn’t capable of doing the job and my guess is she will end up resigning or being fired again at some point in the next year. Maybe this is Sunak’s Machiavellian calculation, but if it is it’s probably too cute. With such low public trust in the Government he desperately needs to avoid competence scandals.”
And, a year on, here we are. Finally Sunak has been pushed into making a choice and he has gone with Track A. Braverman is gone, replaced by James Cleverly. David Cameron is back as foreign secretary, and one of his former SPADs, Laura Trott, has been promoted to the cabinet too. The purpose of these appointments is to emphasise to “Track A” voters that the Tory party they opted for in 2010 and 2015 hasn’t disappeared and it’s still safe to back them.
Sunak’s strategists will be aware that the polling data from nominally safe seats in Surrey, Oxfordshire, and Hertfordshire, under threat from the Lib Dems, is dire. The political calculation is that most of the “red wall” seats are now unwinnable but Surrey can still be saved. But will it work? How will the right of the party respond? And is “Track B” completely dead?
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