It May Happen – Why Sunak might still spring a surprise

There remain those around Tory HQ who believe the green shoots of spring are the only buds of Sunak’s potential rescue. They are not few in number, so let’s try on their double-breasted jackets and see if we can come to play a part and seemingly believe a position.

Here, then, is why Sunak will absolutely call an election in the Spring (which, to be clear, he won’t). More important, from a Labour messaging perspective, is what Labour need to be prepared for as a preemptive counter to these potential narratives if they are deployed in the weeks ahead (which, to be clear, they will not be).

Labour’s light-sleeping liabilities

The great Irish journalist and political thinker Conor Cruise O’Brien famously remarked that “antisemitisim is a light sleeper.” From comedy theatres to courtrooms, the homes of Jewish politicians and the halls of residence of Jewish students, new data from the CST show that O’Brien’s observation has proven well and true, with the highest number of recorded antisemitic attacks and incidents in the UK for half a century. It sleeps light, too, on the left of British politics. The Corbyn era’s anti-Jewish racism has been faced, and faced down, in the most part with purpose and moral clarity from Starmer et al, but some embers (and some members) need only oxygen, and places like Rochdale have provided the bellows. Party discipline will be tested in the weeks to come. A crack would not only be a moral failure and a regressive step in recognising the true suffering, hurt and fear in the Jewish community, but also a needless opportunity to allow the Conservatives to return to their greatest hits of the Corbyn era, where they had a veritable buffet of racist blunders on which to feast.

Labour’s other liabilities, though, sleep light too. Fiscal irresponsibility. An instinct to tax. A North London liberal wokeness. A discomfort in patriotism. These accusations are just a 28-billion-pound U-turn away from being at the top of the nation’s mind at any moment. Should two or three wake at once, as the coming weeks might just see (with a budget likely to include Tory tax cuts, an SNP vote on a Gaza ceasefire designed purely to split Labour, and the likely emergence of some Labour candidates being unfortunately rather racist in public) Sunak might just sense that the ground under Labour’s poll lead is shifting.

Boat Weather

It is harder to cross the channel in a small boat in February than August. This is not some great seafaring insight, and the data of previous years back it up with metronomic certainty. Sure as summer follows spring, the second half of the year brings a rate of crossing that is four times that of the first half. Right now, in the next few weeks, the boats are largely stopped, not by policy but by Poseidon. Given the boats are briefly idle, the moment to claim progress on Sunak’s grand missions may be more credible before the summer. When the cross-channel flotilla of failure inevitably resumes to dispel the fragile myth that any political progress has been made, that window of celebratory opportunity will abruptly close.

The Trump Effect

It is impossible to know for sure what grotesquery awaits us as the US Presidential Election rolls into town over the coming months, but three things feel like fairly safe bets. Firstly, Trump will do, say, be filmed, be convicted of, incite and delight in some truly awful stuff. Illegal, immoral, impossibly bad. Second, none of that will matter. He will remain popular. He will be, in the weeks and months leading up to the November election, close to if not outright leading. Third, as has already happened, a lot of Tories will express their affection for him, their admiration, seeing in him everything of course that Rishi Sunak is not.

Sunak will be keen, on two fronts, to avoid the comparison that near-simultaneous elections would inevitably bring. To his party right, the clamour that he be more Trump. To the rest of the nation, less Trump, not part of a global authoritarian lurch. The sheer unpredictability of the context, and the certainty that it will inform any campaign that runs to similar timings to the Box Office brutality of the contest for the White House, might be something Sunak would go to great lengths to avoid.

Do Something

Sir Winston Churchill, a man of action in the most metaphorical sense only, summed up one of his sharper political insights with a clarity that could yet inform a shotgun election in the months to come. “Next to doing the right thing,” he exhaled at some unfortunate lunch companion over a pint of Pol Roger, “the best thing is to do something.”

Calling an election is, I believe we can all agree, doing something. It’s action, amid accusations of inaction. It’s a show of strength against a reputation of weakness. It is also, don’t forget, what a lot of people actually want. It is, strangely enough, a rare chance for an unpopular PM to do something popular.

The smart money remains on a contest in the autumn, but if we have learned anything at all since Boris flipped both a coin and us all the bird back in 2016 (and we absolutely have not) then it’s that smartness has informed rather fewer of our national decisions than it ought to have done recently. We are still living in the age of reckless, knee-jerk political dumbness, no matter the prospect of a new era. Our crisis of a political era might just deliver us the spring election we all claim to want.

 

This column is part of media strategist Alex Hesz’s ‘Mission Messaging’ series for Progressive Britain. If you enjoyed this piece, check out the previous instalment, Sunak’s Californian Plan.