Rishi Sunak’s leadership on the brink following dismal polls and ministerial resignations

Rishi Sunak is increasingly losing his grip on the Conservative Party after Lee Anderson’s defection and an ongoing rebellion on the backbenches

Zoe Grunewald,Archie Mitchell
Friday 15 March 2024 20:12 GMT
Rishi Sunak rules out general election on 2 May

Rishi Sunak has faced yet another testing week of resignations, warning shots and poor polling results as he continues to avoid setting a date for a general election.

The prime minister is increasingly losing his grip on the Conservative Party with a senior Tory minister announcing his decision to leave politics and a former deputy chair defecting to Nigel Farage’s right-wing challenger party Reform UK.

Now, Mr Sunak faces fresh scrutiny following the publication of an explosive poll that has revealed how he is haemorrhaging popularity.

Rishi Sunak faced a testing week, with a senior Tory defecting to a rival party and a defence minister quitting (PA)

The survey conducted by JL Partners polling paints a damning portrait of the beleaguered Tory leader, as it revealed that voters see him as a “weak, useless, rich idiot” – as the party trail Labour by 20 per cent.

In a devastating blow for the prime minister, voters picked Boris Johnson, followed by Margaret Thatcher – who died 11 years ago – and Nigel Farage ahead of Mr Sunak.

The bruising analysis comes as armed forces minister James Heappey announced plans to leave his role in government and quit as an MP at the next general election, joining 61 other Conservative MPs who have said they plan to leave politics before the next election.

The future of Mr Sunak’s premiership now hangs in the balance as the prime minister was forced to rule out a May general election amid mounting speculation that he would be forced to call a snap vote to avoid a disastrous set of local election results and stave off a Conservative rebellion.

Labour has branded Rishi Sunak a ‘chicken’ for ruling out a May election, with Keir Starmer repeatedly calling for an immediate contest (PA)

The Independent now understands No 10 has pencilled in an election for Thursday 10 October, according to Downing Street sources. No 10 did not deny the claims.

According to the new poll focusing on Mr Sunak, the top 10 words most commonly chosen by all voters to describe him, in order of popularity, are: “Weak, useless, rich, untrustworthy, incompetent, bad, idiot, rubbish, liar, smarmy”.

Those who voted Tory in the 2019 election were nearly as insulting, struggling to find a single good thing to say about him.

James Johnson, director of JL Partners polling, said the word cloud survey conducted last weekend explained “the serious slide in Rishi Sunak’s ratings” among the electorate since he became prime minister nearly 18 months ago.

Meanwhile, Mr Heappey’s resignation has given credence to the view that even Mr Sunak’s ministerial team are accepting defeat.

James Heappey has told his constituents he will stand down as an MP at the next election (PA)

The minister said that “now is the time... to pursue a different career”, adding that he would continue to support Mr Sunak in his leadership of the Conservatives “until such time as he wishes me to step down, and then from the backbenches”.

The beginning of the week saw former deputy party chair and red-wall firebrand, Lee Anderson, join Reform UK after being kicked out of the Tories for his Islamophobic comments about mayor of London Sadiq Khan.

Reform UK are taking chunks out of the Conservative vote share in recent polls with many speculating that the party could harm the Tories chances of re-election.

Lee Anderson’s defection will add to the headache facing Rishi Sunak, with Reform UK eating into Conservative support (Getty Images)

Mr Anderson’s decision to defect triggered further speculation that more Tories could jump ship, particularly among those not happy with the prime minister’s direction.

Colleagues from the right-wing New Conservative group fired a warning shot to Mr Sunak. Miriam Cates and Danny Kruger said in a joint statement: “The responsibility for Lee’s defection sits with the Conservative Party. We have failed to hold together the coalition of voters who gave us an 80-seat majority in 2019.

“Those voters – in our traditional heartlands and in the red-wall seats like Ashfield – backed us because we offered an optimistic, patriotic, no-nonsense Conservatism.”

They added: “Our poll numbers show what the public think of our record since 2019. We cannot pretend any longer that ‘the plan is working’. We need to change course urgently.”

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