Why Rishi Sunak is still facing a nightmare week despite Parliament in recess, as inflation figures, by-elections and Rwanda debate looms
The Commons isn’t sitting this week, which traditionally allows the UK government to set the agenda, getting coverage simply by virtue of speaking.
They therefore campaign on soft subjects everyone will agree on, which is why this week has started with ministers boldly declaring fraud is bad. Later on there is expected to be new support for house building, and promises to support victims of crime.
In theory, parliamentary recess should be a time where Downing Street can take control of the narrative, garnering some much needed positive headlines.
For Rishi Sunak, however, the night is dark and full of terrors, with Rwanda debates, new statistics and by-elections all banana skins which could encourage Tory MPs to once again call for a new leader.
Up first is his controversial Rwanda scheme, which faces a thorough pasting in the House of Lords. Tory peers are in general far more liberal than their MP counterparts, especially on internationalist issues. Any backlash or dissent among the Conservative ranks is not just noise from the unelected chamber. It represents a very real threat of more delays to the legislation, which Mr Sunak badly needs to be working before an election.
To top it all off, the Prime Minister then faces an hour-long question-and-answer session with a live audience of GB News viewers, where The Scotsman has been told he could be asked “anything”. Last week his off-the-cuff responses involved him agreeing a £1,000 bet on deportations and mocking Sir Keir Starmer’s trans policy in front of Brianna Ghey's mother, so it’s fair to say he’s not been the best at thinking on his feet.
Wednesday is where things could really get slippery, with the latest inflation statistics being published. The Prime Minister has made lowering inflation a key aspect of his pitch to Britain. But forecasters believe last month’s increase in the energy price cap could see inflation rise from 4 per cent to 4.4 per cent or 4.5 per cent. With Labour now more trusted on the economy, Mr Sunak cannot appear to fail on inflation.
The economy raises further headaches on Thursday, when GDP figures are published by the Office for National Statistics. With the economy shrinking between July and September, the figures for quarter four will reveal if the UK has hit a recession. Mr Sunak will struggle to say his plan is working if the economy continues getting smaller under his stewardship.
Most damaging of all to the Prime Minister, also on Thursday, are the two by-elections.
Taking place in the theoretically safe Tory seats of Wellingborough and Kingswood, reports over the weekend suggested party bosses had given up on campaigning, preferring to save money to win them back in a general election.
Labour’s shock wins in Tamworth and Mid Bedfordshire last year meant the Tories had not seen such poor by-election results since the run-up to Tony Blair’s 1997 general election landslide. Losing these seats would rattle the many Conservative MPs already worried about their own constituencies.
This all comes in the backdrop of a new Survation poll that forecasts of the Tories 100 rural seats, 51 will go to Labour at the election. It’s never easy for Mr Sunak, with every week seemingly bringing fresh peril.
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