UK Politics: Sunak's crisis-ridden leadership is coming to a head

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak
One way or another, Rishi Sunak's days in No.10 look numbered

Could Rishi Sunak be about to call a general election in order to stave off the threat of a confidence vote? Paul Krishnamurty tries to make sense of the ever growing rumours...

  • Another terrible week for Sunak

  • Rumours swirl about confidence vote

  • Spring election would thwart plotters


  • Yet again, it is all kicking off in the Conservative Party. A week that has already seen Lee Anderson defect to Reform could get more dramatic within the next few hours. Various exciting Betfair markets could be decided.

    As ever, trying to figure out exactly what is going on behind the scenes involves an element of guesswork, and reading between the lines of planted stories in the press. First, let's recap the last few days.

    Reform threat reaching crisis point

    Anderson's defection wasn't unpredictable but it was a dagger into the heart of the Tory party. As I have been writing on these pages for more than a year, this far-Right insurgency presents an existential threat to a Conservative Party which has already bet the house on pursuing it's populist, authoritarian, Trumpist flank. The prospect of the Tories being reduced to fewer than 50 seats at the next election is realistic, and trading at just 6.611/2 on the Exchange.

    Next came the row over mega donor Frank Hester's comments about Diane Abbott. Sunak and No.10 couldn't bring themselves to condemn the comments as racist all day and were ultimately humiliated when Sunak's potential successor as Tory leader Kemi Badenoch came out to do just that. Never has Sunak looked weaker and the reaction from influential parts of the Conservative family was scathing.

    It was also reported last night that Sunak held an unscheduled meeting with 1922 Committee chair Sir Graham Brady on Monday night. Does that imply Brady has received enough votes to trigger a Confidence Vote, or that they are imminent?

    Is a Confidence Vote imminent?

    The backdrop to such a development is that Sunak could thwart such a move by calling a general election for May 2. He would need to do so by March 26. As discussed last week, the signals aren't obvious but there has always been logic behind that date.

    Things will likely get even worse for Sunak after the local elections on that day, and a general election turnout would probably save hundreds, even thousands of Tory councillors. A May election is trading at odds of 6.411/2.

    Then a story in The Sun - which nobody should ever take at face value - appeared this morning, claiming senior Tory MPs were lobbying Sunak to hold off, in case the England football team win Euro 2024 and the Tories get a boost. Make of that logic whatever you will. It does nevertheless imply that a May election is 'in play'.

    Johnson, Cameron rumours persist

    There was also a bizarre story in the Mail on Sunday about Boris Johnson being parachuted into his old seat of Henley in order to reclaim the leadership before the election. The most bizarre aspect being that such a plan would require triggering a by-election which Johnson would be far from certain to win.

    Let's also not forget the other theory doing the rounds, that David Cameron was brought back so he could take over as caretaker leader from the Lords, until after the election. ex-Tory MP Nadine Dorries is convinced that it is true and, whilst considering it crazy, I have money on having backed Cameron at 300.0299/1 for Next Prime Minister.

    Don't assume a rational plan

    I think the only solid conclusion to draw is that the party is not thinking or acting rationally. Ever since Partygate, they have been in blind panic mode and descended into bitter factionalism. Therefore, it is possible that they end up with a spring election, despite not having laid the groundwork, and that they will go into an election at rock-bottom in the polls, with no coherent plan to unite. Or they could launch into another bitter leadership fight.

    How should we bet on it? Well, my positions are strongly in favour of a Confidence Vote and laying Keir Starmer for Next PM. I find it very hard to see Sunak surviving the fallout from those local elections to lead them into the election. My worry is the snap election could wreck those positions and that Sun article does have me fearing the announcement could be imminent.

    If Sunak doesn't call it, I expect an unprecedented local electoral massacre on May 2 and a swift end to a disastrous premiership. My prediction remains that the election will be late in the year, ideally December. I hope Cameron is the leader but reckon Badenoch is the chosen one.


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    Follow Paul on Twitter and check out his website, Political Gambler.


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