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Strategists fear Sunak might not have temperament to charm electorate

New Delhi, Dec 2, 2023
With the UK general elections looming next year, some Conservative Party MPs and strategists fear the British Prime Minister might not have the temperament to charm the electorate.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s decision Monday to abruptly cancel a meeting with Kyriakos Mitsotakis, angrily claiming that his Greek counterpart reneged on assurances he would not speak publicly about the disputed Parthenon Sculptures during his three-day UK visit, has reignited Tory fears about a petulant streak which surfaces in the heat of political battle, Politico reported.

It’s almost unheard of for a British Prime Minister to cancel a meeting with a European ally who has specifically traveled to see them in No. 10 Downing Street, and Sunak’s decision has caused outrage in Greece.

A government spokesman in Athens called the decision “unprecedented” and “disrespectful”, Politico reported.

“Whereas when he was Chancellor the public found Rishi Sunak authoritative and reassuring, they now tend to find him lecturing and sometimes snappy,” said Luke Tryl, director of the consultancy More in Common, which regularly conducts focus groups on political topics around the UK.

“The warning signs of this shift in impressions of Sunak have been clear since last year’s leadership debates, when the public found Sunak’s attitude to Liz Truss to be rude and condescending — even when they agreed with what he was saying.

“Given that he already struggles on questions of empathy, the Prime Minister is at risk of developing a tone problem with the public and needs to switch back to ‘safe pair of hands; rather than know-it-all,” he added.

With Labour leading in the polls, a former minister added, the stakes for Sunak could not be higher, Politico reported.

“As Chancellor you can get away with it,” they said. “As Prime Minister, you can’t.”

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s autumn statement tax cut has fuelled speculation that Sunak could be gearing up for an election in the first half of 2024, Sky News reported.

With the Conservatives still lagging behind Labour in the polls, the chancellor made the surprise announcement that he will slash national insurance by two percentage points and bring forward the change to January rather than waiting until the new tax year in April.

Sky’s election analyst Professor Michael Thrasher comes to a similar conclusion.

He said: “The Conservatives trail Labour by 18 points in the latest polling, a swing sufficient to give Keir Starmer a healthy majority at the coming election. A series of record-breaking by-election defeats this parliament confirm the Conservative predicament.

Clawing back the deficit, and recovering trust among electors is going to take time.”

The bleak assessments are a remarkable turnaround for a party that just four years ago won a thumping 80-seat majority under Boris Johnson.

But the scandals that led to his downfall, and the economic chaos unleashed by the Liz Truss mini-budget – all against the backdrop of rising NHS waiting lists and a cost of living crisis – is why some strategists believe a Conservative defeat at the next general election is all but inevitable, Sky News reported.

Polling expert Professor John Curtice put it: “Frankly, they are heading for crucifixion.”

He is sceptical the autumn statement will “move the dial much” and said speculation about an early election “is in the interest of the Conservatives to keep everyone on their toes”.

He believes the Conservatives are facing electoral disaster on the scale of 1997, when after 18 years in power the party, led by John Major, was defeated in a landslide by Labour’s Tony Blair, Sky News reported.(Agency)

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