Advertisement

Can Rishi Sunak break free of the malaise gripping his premiership?

Just how much trouble is Rishi Sunak in as he limps on into Easter?

This week we have had newspapers splashing on plots to oust the prime minister, as rebels mutter about letters of no confidence being sent to the shop steward of the backbenchers, Sir Graham Brady.

Mr Sunak mounted a fightback and told MPs at his end-of-term meet to "pull together" as the plotters melted back into the background - for now.

👉 Listen above then tap here to follow Electoral Dysfunction wherever you get your podcasts 👈

But the question for this week's Electoral Dysfunction is whether the prime minister has passed the point of "embattled" to something far worse. Ruth Davidson's iron law of leadership: "Embattled is one away from beleaguered, and once you're beleaguered, you're f***ed."

On this week's Electoral Dysfunction recording, we found ourselves circling back to that missive as we got into the discussion that has gripped politics this week: How much trouble is Sunak really in - is he in the dead zone?

Ruth said: "I think he's embattled, I'm not entirely sure he's beleaguered yet. I think there was a flashpoint, the danger when he was meeting the 1922 [his address to backbench MPs].

"And as is almost always the case, when you actually face people down that are agitating for you to go, they are a bit of a paper tiger."

But the danger zone is never far off for this PM.

No sooner had he sent his MPs home for the week - they are back in on Monday for one more day of business before the Easter break - than two pieces of very bad news came in: Home Office figures revealed that more than 500 migrants arrived in small boats on Wednesday, setting a new daily high for 2024, with crossing now up 10% on the same period in 2023.

Follow the Sky News poll tracker

The second piece of news that would have rattled his already jittery party was a YouGov poll putting the Conservatives just four points ahead of Reform, which hit a new polling high of 15%, against 19% for the Tories. Only one poll, but one that will send the chills through already despairing MPs.

You have to wonder whether sending them away from Westminster to canvass voters in their constituencies will only make it worse for Mr Sunak when they return on 15 April.

Ruth says the next flash point will absolutely be the local elections on 2 May: "That will be a big indicator of how the general election is going to go. And it will be the last kind of moment to really think about changing the leader before the general election.

"I don't think it's going to happen, but off the back of that, we may well see even more Tory MPs saying they're not going to contest the election when it comes. I think he's safe for the next two or three weeks, I think there is going to be a hard reckoning at the start of May."

And in a sign of how febrile it still is below the surface, there is still talk of an election before the autumn, driven by the instability of the government on the back of plotting and dire polls.

Politics latest: London terror attack survivor hits out at Sunak's 'abysmal' response

One Conservative party source told me this week that Conservative Campaign Headquarters are making sure they are ready to go in June - in case there is a move against the prime minister after the local elections.

Meanwhile, Jess Philips threw her own "curveball" into our pod chat about rumours running over the prospect of moving the local elections to June. That's quite a kite to fly, not least because they'd have to pass legislation to move the elections (doing it shortly before election day would look appalling).

But perhaps talk of a summer general election is a warning for rebels to keep people on their toes. It's a threat, but we don't know who's making it.

That's how chaotic it is around here.

All symptoms of the deeper malaise of a PM who is being discredited by a disruptive minority on his benches who genuinely believe changing leader might help cushion the electoral oblivion they think they're going to face. Perhaps after May we will learn if Mr Sunak can be better embattled or become beleaguered instead.