In Boris Johnson’s resignation speech four weeks ago, he stated that when the herd moves, it moves. This was just one of many thinly veiled swipes the outgoing PM made against the decision to oust him, and by all accounts, he has been on a pity tour ever since, telling anyone who will listen how badly he was treated.
But whatever you think of Johnson, on the herd comment, he did have a point. The Tory Party (and to an extent, every political party,) moves like a herd, and the herd has now decided that the next Prime Minister will be Liz Truss. You can tell this from the list of endorsements this week, some of whom have been previous sceptics. Penny Mordaunt, who was brutally taken down by Truss just a few weeks ago, is now lining up behind her. Sajid Javid, similar to Truss on economics, but a moderate and former close ally of Sunak, is behind her. Even Tom Tugendhat is behind her. You’d think the only reason he would support Truss is if he thought she was still in the Liberal Democrats.
It is getting to the stage of the game when people are thinking less about who will win, and more about what Cabinet position they might get in a Truss Government. And the more high-profile MPs flock to Truss, the more of a self-fulfilling prophecy it becomes that she will definitely win, and the more Rishi seems like a dead man walking.
Because she hasn’t actually had a good week in many ways, the sudden u-turn on regional pay bands is the kind of thing that could be a real momentum buster in a lot of campaigns. She came across as weak and dithering, leaving herself open to attacks on her fitness to be PM and accusations from some quarters that she is a weathervane and someone who blows with the harsh media winds. Sky News’ Kay Burley took her to task quite brutally yesterday, listing her career of u-turns and asking ‘will the real Liz Truss please stand up.’ Rishi might have had a chance to make some in-roads from all this. But it seems any chance at a fightback has come too late. The herd is already on the move, the polls indicate her lead could be as high as 34 points. No one truly believes he has a chance and therefore he is struggling to build momentum.
The last throws of the Rishi dice are upon us: enter wild policy announcements about people who ‘vilify Britain’ being included in anti-terrorism programmes. As well as quite clearly not seeming like the kind of policy Rishi Sunak would support in the real world, it is also a pretty strange attempt at populism. Lots, probably most, of Conservative members, really rather like free speech. It is arguably the main culture war issue they have stood behind in recent years. Sunak, just like with his tax policies, and just like with his negative campaigning against Truss, seems to have misread the room.
As things stand, he is almost certainly going to lose. The question for Sunak now is more about if he can salvage some dignity, make it a little closer, and stay a respected figure in the Conservative Party.
Right now, even that seems under serious threat.