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View from the Street: Calamity reigns in Downing Street

Malcolm Robertson

Founding partner

If it’s fair to say that Rishi Sunak took the country and its political establishment by surprise in calling a summer election yesterday, it is just as reasonable to observe that the calamitous way in which he did it was not surprising at all.

The prime minister cut a beleaguered figure outside his home in Downing Street, addressing the nation with all the poise and gravitas one would expect of a man standing in the rain handing in his notice in front of a global television audience, while another man plays a song he doesn’t like through an amplifier at the end of the road.

In an age of obsessive media management and presentation, the speech and its farcical backdrop represented an astonishing failure, and one suspects the prime minister knew that after only a few minutes at the lectern. Those minutes must have felt like hours to him. They certainly did for me, watching from a dry office in Edinburgh. If Sunak deserves any credit, it is for getting to the end of his remarks without losing the plot entirely.

The speech itself, though hard to follow and even harder to remember, for reasons outlined above, was a focus group special. Sunak reminded those watching that the furlough scheme during the pandemic was his. He talked of global conflict and uncertainty.

As for the serious issue of this country’s governance, we now know that a general election is to be held on Thursday 4th July. As things stand, and have stood for some time, Labour holds a commanding 20-point lead in the opinion polls.

The political consensus is that Sir Keir Starmer will – if those polls are an accurate reflection of voting intentions – become prime minister on Friday 5th July and form a new administration over the following weekend. There are other subplots to the story too, particularly in relation to Scottish politics.

While the election will happen earlier than most expected, it is hard to envisage a different outcome to the one that seemed irrevocably baked into the future during the Conservatives’ disastrous flirtation with Liz Truss. That was the point at which most Tory MPs knew their time was up and when Labour really started to believe it would return to power.

What we can predict with confidence is a full-blooded election campaign. Deprived by fiscal restrictions of a final opportunity to bribe the electorate, all that is left for the Conservatives is to throw everything they have at Keir Starmer and other senior Labour politicians in the hope of reducing Labour’s majority and avoiding humiliation.

However, yesterday’s slightly comical launch does not bode well for the Conservatives, and one wonders how its frontline can be motivated for the weeks ahead and at what future point they might hope to change the prevailing media and political narratives.

We may never know what influenced the PM to decide now, though it seems plausible that with absolutely nothing going well, Labour out of sight and Reform breathing down his neck, he has simply had enough. In other words, he’s thrown in the towel that he might usefully have had to hand during his speech yesterday afternoon.

I’m pleased to say that we have put together a brilliant team of expert political advisers, to help guide clients through the general election and into the early period of a new government. We look forward to sharing more information on that offer early next week.