When Rishi Sunak lost to Liz Truss in the first Conservative Party leadership race of 2022, few were surprised. Many of the people given the chance to choose between the two candidates blamed Sunak for Boris Johnson’s downfall. They also preferred Truss’s “optimistic” economic policies to Sunak’s sombre assessment of the fiscal outlook. Where she promised generous tax arrangements, he argued that economic circumstances would be hard and taxes could not be cut in the short term. Indeed, he warned, they might even have to rise.
As Liz Truss stepped away from the lectern outside No.10 Downing Street after resigning as leader of her party, it probably occurred to her that her time as prime minister will have been only as long as the leadership campaign that got her there.
A YouGov poll of party members completed on August 2 shows Rishi Sunak to be trailing Liz Truss 31% to 69% in the Conservative leadership contest. A similar poll completed on July 21 had him on 38% to her 62%. She appears to be winning the contest hands down.
As Boris Johnson barricades himself in Number 10, apparently unwilling or unable to listen to the advice of close party colleagues who are calling on him to resign, how can we understand this bizarre melodrama?
As I watched Johnson’s appearance in front of the House of Commons Liaison Committee on the afternoon before his showdown with key members of his cabinet, I couldn’t help but wonder if there was a deeper malady at play. It was as if an existential disconnect had settled across the comfortingly boring committee room.