They might be the words of Louis XV, but this week seem to ring metaphorically and meteorologically true as the outgoing would-be ‘World King’ remains on his holidays in Greece while the country back at home, well, seems to be falling to its knees.
Inflation at historic levels, drought, flooding, spiraling mortgage rates, rocketing food prices, the looming spectre of vast energy bills, the country brought to near standstill by the unions, the prospect of the NHS collapsing in on itself…There are extremely legitimate questions about what the Government, or at the least the Party of government is doing about any of it.
Cabinet Minister Kit-safe-pair-of-hands-Malthouse this week declared that the country is on a ‘war footing’ to enable whoever becomes PM to make some ‘quick decisions’ as soon as they come to office. But in the meantime, the Government’s ‘grid’ of announcements seems to be continuing with August ‘business as usual’. The latest offering over the last few days was ‘number plates’ for bicycles – perhaps laudable, but a bit beside the point.
The two-horse leadership race continues for another two and half weeks. One of the lobby hacks pithily texted yesterday: ‘I’m not sure why – is there anyone out there who doesn’t know that Rishi’s mum ran a pharmacy and Liz quite likes Thatcher’. There are some calls for Rishi to do the ‘decent thing’ and concede, de facto installing Liz who should then immediately recall Parliament and introduce her emergency budget (details of which remain yet scant).
More MPs are now backing her (after several defections and recent declarations of support) than Rishi, who had been in the lead amongst Westminster colleagues at the start. His camp is outwardly dismissive of this – saying that the naked self-interest of the defectors is unlikely in any case at this late stage to mean they are rewarded with jobs.
What’s much harder for Rishi’s supporters to be so sanguine about are the polls which have had Liz a long way out front for some time now. The most recent from YouGov puts Sunak on 31% and Truss on 68% amongst those that have already voted. Conservative HQ insiders are skeptical that the lead is as big as this (and say that local associations’ events with Rishi are better attended).
Rishi’s team privately concede that they were ‘slow off the mark’ in the early days of the campaign, and let the ‘air war’ of announcements and media coverage get away from them. But at this stage, with the clear blue water between their entrenched positions on economic and fiscal matters, it seems unlikely that there is much policy-wise that Rishi could now announce that could sway things to put him out in front.
Barring something derailing the Truss juggernaut, Liz will thus be installed in No10 by the beginning of next month.
Either way, as one former minister put it to me this week, ‘I’m not sure I care which one of them wins any more, I just want it to be over’. Undoubtably a sentiment shared by pretty much the rest of the country, who just want to know how they are going to pay their bills come the autumn.
Words by Amy Fisher, Director at WA Communications