Election rishi sunak conservative

The Conservatives’ self-inflicted election disaster

The Conservative Party has suffered its worst election defeat since its founding 190 years ago. The Conservatives only won 23.7 percent of the vote and 121 seats, a net loss of 252 seats across the country primarily to Labour candidates as well as many Liberal Democrats. They only received approximately 6,800,000 votes, which is less than half of what they won in 2019.

Perhaps most jarring was the sheer number of high-profile names that lost their seats, including former Prime Minister Liz Truss, Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt, Defence Secretary Grant Shapps, and former cabinet minister Jacob Rees-Mogg (to name a few).

As terrible as their performance was, it could still have been worse. Some polls predicted a calamitous outcome, which would have seen the Tories drop below 100 seats and fail to become the main opposition party. At least they achieved the bare minimum required to potentially form an effective opposition.

In many ways, the Conservatives were beyond salvation before the campaign started. The party never recovered from the polling hits it took as a result of the Partygate scandal, as well as Liz Truss’s disastrous mini-budget, consistently trailing behind the Labour Party by 20 points.

However, Rishi Sunak’s lacklustre campaign, characterised by blunders rather than policy substance, allowed Labour to ride the anti-Tory wave to victory largely unscathed. Initial signature proposals like reintroducing national service and Triple Lock Plus’ pension allowance in the manifesto took a backseat amidst the debacles. Keir Starmer deserves tremendous credit for transforming the Labour Party into a disciplined election machine but their entire platform centred around 14 years of Conservative failures. 

Three events stand out. Firstly, Sunak’s decision to leave D-Day commemorations early illustrated his utter lack of political judgement, alienating the Conservatives’ core senior base. Secondly, his response in an interview with ITV News that he went without Sky TV as a child indicated how his ostensible wealth makes him out of touch with the British public. Thirdly, the gambling scandal within the Conservative Party reminded the public that they never learnt their lesson in corruption after Partygate, and continue to play by different, unethical rules.

To his credit, Sunak gave a dignified and gracious final speech of his premiership. He apologised to the British public, fully blamed himself for the defeat, wished good luck to Keir Starmer and described the new Prime Minister as a “decent, public-spirited man”. He said he will step down as party leader only once the formal arrangements for selecting his successor are in place.

Certain MPs, such as Suella Braverman, have already begun to construct their obituaries for this campaign as they prepare to launch their leadership bids. The right-wing of the party will blame Sunak for not going far enough to stop the bleeding to Reform and Farage. The centre of the party will make the opposite case, arguing that straying from the centre paved the way for a Labour victory. However,  the side that will win this narrative, and thus choose the next leader of the opposition, remains to be seen.

Image Description: Rishi Sunak in front of 10 Downing Street

Image Credit: Lauren Hurley via Flickr