By Tirthankar Mitra
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is on a mission to rebrand the Conservative Party. Time is running out for him in his bid to reach this goal as the elections are due in January 2025 in Great Britain. But there are shadows of doubt over the Tories electoral prospects. The Conservative Party is at a crossroads. Sunak wants to project his image as a decisive decision maker. The decisions, he feels, will be the catalysts of change.
Arguably, aiming at fiscal responsibility, Sunak announced the cancellation of a high-speed railway connection to the city of Manchester. Incidentally, it was at this city during Conservative Party’s annual conference came the cancellation announcement.
Vote banks and pocket boroughs are seriously nursed and electoral dividends are eagerly looked up to from them, come elections. Sunak’s decision has infuriated local people, businesses and political leaders cutting across the ideological divide as one and all would have used high speed railway connection once the trains started rolling.
Recent opinion polls point out that Labour are ahead of the Tories. Neither does Sunak’s decision improve matters for his party, nor is it is a bright spot on his political acumen. For there are already signs of shifting sand below Sunak’s feet in the Conservative Party. It seems his partymen are not convinced that the call for change is accompanied by concrete policies addressing pressing issues such as healthcare and a cost of living which seems to be ever increasing.
Reverting to the “shifting sands in Sunak’s support base” was a standout moment when the crowd at the Manchester conference gave a rapturous welcome to his predecessor Liz Struss on her arrival at the Manchester conference. Struss had put in her papers after only 49 days in office.
Market concerns about her debt heavy economic plans may have hastened her departure. But the cheers greeting her arrival at the Manchester conference indicate undertones of intricate intra-party dynamics.
The conference was marked by the attendance of pro-Brexit campaigner, Nigel Farage. He might have led a rival party which eroded support from the Tories and yet he was given a warm welcome thickening the complexity of the situation.
Sunak is on a sticky wicket. And he is aware of it. The British Prime Minister has a tightrope walk ahead of him. He has to be an all-weather man for his partymen and women. Sunak has to retain support from the right wing faction of his party. In doing so, he cannot afford to alienate the centrist voters.
Current opinion polls show that the Labour is leading. But one will do well to remember that political climate shift swiftly. General elections in Great Britain in 2015 and 2017 are pointers to it. The vote for Brexit in 2016 is another case in point.
Moreover, Tories have a track record of proving opinion polls wrong. There is no reason why they cannot do it again. Immigration and tax cuts are issues resonating with core Tory supporters. But more than a focus on conventional issues is called for to win the next elections.
There are voters who are still undecided in their choice of candidates. Immigration and healthcare are at the top of their concerns. And electoral success or reverse will centre round Sunak’s performance on these issues. Fiscal responsibility has to meld with social compassion in the Tories’ message to the voters.
It is a precarious path demanding astute political acumen on part of Sunak and the leading lights of Tories. The odds against the Tories can only be defied by effectively communicating their vision and addressing the tangible concerns of the voters. It may sound to be an uphill task. But the peak to be reached after the toil and trouble is worth it. (IPA Service)