Andy Coulson: 'Rishi needs to steady the ship and set a course for growth'

1 November 2022, 16:08 | Updated: 1 November 2022, 16:12

Rishi Sunak needs to steady the ship, writes Andy Coulson
Rishi Sunak needs to steady the ship, writes Andy Coulson. Picture: Alamy
Andy Coulson

By Andy Coulson

Rishi Sunak’s Premiership has, Home Office soap opera aside, got off to a reasonably solid start.

The criticism aimed at Suella (formerly Sue Ellen) Braverman is a Dallas-like drama that Rishi must have predicted and decided he could suffer. The support her re-hiring secured was more valuable than the sideshow it has created.

The markets have calmed a touch, the polls have narrowed marginally and the feeling that the grown-ups are back pulling the levers is just beginning to take hold.

Rishi’s challenge now is how to build on these beginnings and properly connect with voters – as well as those in his own party who remain sceptical – against the hugely challenging backdrop of inevitable austerity.

We faced not an entirely dissimilar challenge in the run up to the 2010 election although the internal dramas were not at unprecedented Peak Pantomime, as they have been in recent months.

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The 2008 financial crash pulled the rug from under our feet and although we didn’t carry the responsibility of Government we needed to pivot at speed and prove we could be trusted .

Rishi would do well to look at the key ingredients of our strategy between Autumn 2008 and May 2010. To learn what we got wrong as well as right.

Right? A day to day campaign focus despite never knowing when Gordon Brown might drop the E Bomb. The feeling that every day mattered, and every intervention was to be planned as though our futures depended on it.

But to do so with an internal esprit d’corps that kept discipline tight but that also generated the sense of shared purpose and even fun that’s crucial when facing an uphill challenge. We understood and lived by the golden rule of political party management: division kills.

Wrong? In mixing our messages – austerity on a Monday, Big Society fluff on a Tuesday, we were, in policy terms, neither Arthur nor Martha. And we paid the price when we fell short of a majority.

I talked to the former Chancellor George Osborne about this when he joined me on my podcast

George said: “We were trying to run a ‘We’re telling the tough, honest truths about the economy,” and at the same time we were saying ‘But by the way, we’ve got this whole softer agenda’ .. I remember thinking ‘this is going to be really, really difficult for us and so it proved to be.”

Rishi’s mission could not be clearer… to provide the stability that will allow the great British public to do what it does best: to progress with resilience and optimism. That’s it. No extra fluff required.

Just steady the ship, show yourself to be a Prime Minister in control, take advice from trusted big brains (why isn’t Lord Hague being formally consulted?) and set course for growth. There isn’t a sensible boss of a small or medium sized business in Britain who isn’t attempting to do exactly that right now.

In putting Rishi in place, the Tory Party has given itself just a sliver of opportunity. If that sense of grown-up Government can gather momentum and global events turn out to be not quite as grim as we all fear, the next general election could yet prove to be interesting. It may not be the foregone conclusion so many are predicting.

But a campaign mindset and the ability to see every day between now and then as mission critical, will be the decider. Great communications work will be absolutely key in convincing the media that Rishi is in with a shout and in turn, over time, re-engage the electorate.

Because despite the embarrassment of recent events, the country still needs to see that its new PM, his cabinet and the Conservative Party want it more than the other lot.

Andy Coulson is host of the podcast and Founder of strategic advisory firm