Rishi Sunak wants to be the 'change candidate' - but will voters buy it?

6 October 2023, 18:21 | Updated: 6 October 2023, 18:22

Rishi Sunak speaking to LBC's Tom Swarbrick
Rishi Sunak speaking to LBC's Tom Swarbrick. Picture: LBC
Natasha Clark

By Natasha Clark

Rishi Sunak said the word "change" more than a dozen times in his fifteen minute interview with LBC.

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"I think people do want change," the PM told Tom Swarbrick this afternoon.

"I want to see change in our country - that requires a different approach to how we make these decisions.

"I genuinely want to deliver change for this country, and am prepared to do things differently to make sure that that change happens."

While 'be the change you want to see in the world' might be a lovely mantra for your daughters' bedroom wall - it's a pie-in--the-sky election strategy.

Has the PM been watching too many of those rom-coms his wife, Akshata, admitted he loves so much?

The PM added: "COVID and Ukraine have exposed some underlying issues and that's what I want to change.

"I want to change direction of our country. I think that means you need to change how you do politics."

Promising change and a different direction is nothing new in politics, let alone Westminster.

After thirteen years of Conservative government, I find it very hard to believe that voters will think the former Chancellor, who has been at the heart of decision making for so many years, will be the one to deliver that change.

The gamble exposed in the PM's conference speech shows this attempt at a major shift ahead of the election.

His bid to set out huge education reforms, redirect HS2 cash into local projects and stamp out smoking were described by him today as "three massive announcements to change the direction of our country".

Now is the time, he says, to think long-term, even though he will be far gone by the time those decisions take effect.

Those close to the PM say he is motivated most of all by doing the 'right thing' for the country, even though it may not be easy, evoking the spirit of Harry Potter's wise wizard, Albus Dumbledore.

For politicians, this sort of thinking is generally to be discouraged by political strategists, let alone when you're twenty points behind in the polls.

Yes, prime minister, it sounds very worthy, very moral, yes it's definitely the right thing to do - but it won't win you a majority.

Pollsters know that what voters want, and what they say they want, are two very different things.

Long term decisions for a brighter future is not going to get them a doctor's appointment now, push their energy bills down this winter, or stretch the pound in their pocket any further this Christmas.

This strategy also has a dangerous whiff of politicians telling the public what they think is "good for them".

If voters feel they are being spoken down to, this has a huge risk of backfiring. Just ask the 'Stronger In' Remain campaign.

After spending the last year steading the ship after the chaos of Liz Truss and Boris Johnson rocked the country, the PM is finally rolling up his sleeves and starting his fight.

In the months to come we will learn what Sunakism means, and what sort of legacy he wants to leave.

But for a weary electorate suffering with soaring waiting lists, biting inflation, sky-high interest rates and more - it will take a lot for them to buy he is the right man for the job.

For so many people, they can't help but think it's time to let the other guys have a shot.