Why this week could be the most challenging of Rishi Sunak’s premiership so far

The stakes are high

Rishi Sunak in Aberdeen

This week is set to be a challenging one for Rishi Sunak, and could very well determine his future. The stakes are high. The Tory Prime Minister faces two crucial by-election tests in Wellingborough and Kingswood, as well as gloomy economic forecasts later on in the week, including the latest inflation figures.

In his pitch to fellow Tory MPs, as well as party members and the wider public, Sunak has staked much of his authority on being a ‘safe pair of hands’ after the disastrous premierships of Liz Truss and Boris Johnson. He vowed to ‘steady the ship’ and restore ‘professionalism and integrity’ to the office of Prime Minister. All empty rhetoric as he lurches from one scandal to another.

He has also staked much political capital on the economy, vowing to improve economic performance after a period of low growth and poor productivity. When assuming office, he set out his own five pledges by which he wanted voters to judge him by, which included, halving inflation, growing the economy, getting debt falling, cutting NHS waiting lists and stopping small boat crossings.

He’s failing spectacularly.

On Wednesday this week, we should be getting the latest inflation figures. Inflation was at 10.7% in the three-month period between October and December 2022. In last three months of 2023 it was 4.2%, so that’s below half the rate it was the year before. However,  the Chief Secretary to the Treasury Laura Trott, is already warning that on Wednesday we can expect inflation figures to slightly increase. She told the Sunday Times: “There will be bumps in the road and on Wednesday we can expect inflation to slightly increase when data for January is published.”

Then to make matters worse for Sunak, on Thursday he faces two crucial by-election tests in Wellingborough and Kingswood. His party is facing an uphill battle in the two formerly safe Tory seats.

The Wellingborough by-election was called after former Tory MP Peter Bone was found by an inquiry to have broken bullying and sexual misconduct rules, while in Kingswood Tory MP Chris Skidmore quit in protest at the government’s plans to boost oil and gas production.

Labour are favourites to take both seats, a result which will undoubtedly lead to further Tory infighting and embolden those who wish to get rid of Sunak. That includes groups such as the mysterious Conservative Britain Alliance (CBA), which was behind a poll in the Telegraph, predicting an election wipeout for the Tories, and which is now behind an increased push to get rid of Sunak before the election.

Also on Thursday, ONS figures will show if we’ve hit recession over the last quarter, after the economy shrank between July and September. Sunak has repeatedly promised to grow the economy and if the UK has entered recession it will be a further blow to his credibility.

The outcome of this week will no doubt affect the future direction of the Tory Party, as it desperately tries to cling on to power.

Basit Mahmood is editor of Left Foot Forward

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