Will Rishi Sunak prove to be more than a good loser? – BBC

Exactly 12 months ago, Rishi Sunak was preparing to be a good loser.
Even though he'd been thumped by Liz Truss over the summer in the Conservative Party leadership contest, the day before the result was confirmed, he was in our studio still calmly trying to make his case.
It was her almost immediate implosion that rapidly gave him the chance to move into No 10.
Mr Sunak achieved his first task, to bring calm after a few crazy weeks. But after nearly a year in his second job, to restore the Tory party's standing with the public, is miles out of reach. One survey this week even recorded his worst-ever personal ratings.
So as the new political season starts, I've been asking ministers and senior Conservatives what the chances are that the prime minister can avoid being more than a good loser when it comes to the general election next year.
Those lucky enough to have got their posteriors on the leather seats of ministerial cars all know the situation is bad. "The numbers don't lie," a senior minister tells me. Another cabinet minister says "there is no point pretending we are not under pressure and it is going to get worse".
Another member of the government suggests the chances of turning the situation round are miniscule: "The path was always narrow, now it is looking vanishingly narrow."
But politics and the public mood can shift with extraordinary speed. Another member of the cabinet reckons it is just far too early to call time and they "have not given up all hope".
Another minister believes that while voters are cross with them "they want us to be seen to be on their side", with plenty of minds to be made up.
But the Conservatives have been in the doldrums for a long time. Ministers know they are soaking up a sense that many of the public are profoundly fed up.
One of the cabinet ministers I spoke to admits: "The public is bored with us and frustrated that things have been announced that haven't been delivered."
The sight of queues at airports, more rail and doctors' strikes, and this week children not being able to go back to school because of the risk of buildings collapsing all contribute to a tangible sense among many voters that lots about our country just does not really work.
As schools and parents scramble to work out what is going on, a Labour source jokes "if we were to design a 'the Tories are rubbish' story we couldn't do it this well". And the backdrop to all of this is that inflation has made it harder and harder for millions to make ends meet.
Downing Street's many attempts to change the mood have not succeeded so far. No 10 "has played a lot of the cards", one member of the government lamented, "and 'literally nothing is moving the dial".
The government's planned "small boats week" designed to show off efforts to get the problem under control had a farcical twist with migrants being moved on and off the Bibby Stockholm barge which was brought in to house them.
A quick internet search showed the recent announcement on banning zombie knives has been promised by several Conservative home secretaries in a row, going back to Theresa May in 2016.
A mini-shuffle of ministers this week will hardly have been noticed by most voters. The prime minister's much publicised five pledges from January that he asked to be judged on are proving tough to meet. Failing the test you very publicly set is not a comfortable place for any politician to be.
What do they have left in the locker? A change of gear is on the cards, with one minster saying "we were always going to try to be more eye-catching and adventurous" after Mr Sunak had established himself in office. "If you are trailing by a big margin it is logical to take some risk," says another.
Some tweaks to the operation in Downing Street have been made in the last week (you can read about them here) which is both an admission that all is not well and a sign of an appetite to sharpen up the political operation.
There are big set-piece events on the way. First the Tory party conference, then the King's Speech – the moment when the government announces the new laws it wants to bring in.
These are both big chances for the prime minister to grab the headlines. One cabinet minister says: "That will be his last big chance to show the country he really is the best person to lead for the next few years."
There are whispers that crime and welfare will be big themes Mr Sunak wants to pursue. Expect too more focus on attacking their political rivals by picking issues where the two parties clash. "We want to put Labour in difficult positions," one senior source says.
Whatever cunning wheezes No 10 conjures up, the hole the Conservatives need to climb out of is very deep.
That's not just because of the chaos of last year which angered so many of the public. Not just because any party that has been in power for this long is vulnerable to voters just feeling they have had enough.
But it is also harder to run persuasive campaigns when the contrasts with your rivals are less pronounced. One minister worries the "big dividing lines" just are not there.
The Conservatives will not benefit next time from the collapse of the Lib Dems like they did in 2015, nor will they have the clarity of the Brexit divide which led to their whopping victory in 2019.
Rishi Sunak does not want to be the prime minister who steadied the ship but could not stop it from slowly sinking. His moves in the next few months could make all the difference as to whether he can keep it afloat.
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