The Tories have given up on this election so they can win the next one

3 June 2024, 16:48 | Updated: 3 June 2024, 17:29

Rishi Sunak could be playing 4D chess
Rishi Sunak could be playing 4D chess. Picture: It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia / Getty Images
James Perkins

By James Perkins

Their MPs stood down in their droves. Some have even gone on holiday. Why does it feel like the Conservatives have already given up on this election? Because they have - and they’re already preparing for the next one.

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Every action Rishi Sunak has taken over the last two weeks is longtermist.

He calls an election for July - just before inflation is expected to nudge up slightly. That will be the first (disingenuous) attack line against a new government.

"They’ve only been in a month and the economy is already struggling."

Then small boat crossings surge over a period of hot weather. And since Labour will have scrapped the Rwanda plan, something they describe as ‘inhumane', Sunak and co can blame them for it.

"Boat crossings were coming down until you ended the Rwanda plan."

Then Labour face an incredibly tough financial situation. The Conservatives have already spent all the money on tax cuts. So either they’ll have to reverse them ("Labour raising taxes as usual!") or do what they can with the limited headroom they’re afforded ("They’ve barely changed anything!").

Every crime will be blamed on Labour’s inability to get a grip on law and order. But a more ruthless approach is impossible because the Conservatives have already filled up the prisons (there are only 500 spaces left in male jails in the whole of the UK).

Some of the more bizarre policy announcements may begin to make sense as time goes on. If there’s renewed aggression from Russia or another rogue state, the state of the armed forces will come into question.

It doesn’t matter that the Conservatives presided over a 14 year period in which the size of the army dropped from 190,000 to 126,000.

What matters is that Sunak ‘had a plan’ to fix this: National Service. And he’s got a history of positioning himself as a Cassandra-like figure. During his futile leadership debates with Liz Truss, he warned that her plans would crash the pound.

When his prediction materialised, it was very easy for him to present himself as the ‘adult in the room’ in comparison and swoop into the vacant Number 10.

But I don’t think he’s doing this in order to triumphantly return to Downing Street in five years’ time. I think he's in part doing it so the Conservatives can - but for his personal benefit, the explanation is simple: Good optics.

He wants to be off in America, nodding back over the Atlantic to the mess he’s left to sagely say “I wouldn’t have done that” or “I could have prevented that.”

But is this really 4D chess from Sunak? There is one other more simple explanation for the baffling decisions of the last two weeks. Maybe he’s just bad at this.


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