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    5. Can Rishi Sunak take advantage of Keir Starmer's sad week?

    Politics

    Can Rishi Sunak take advantage of Keir Starmer's sad week?

    Sir Keir Starmer and Rachel Reeves, his shadow chancellor, have agreed to scrap Labour's £28 billion pledge to green investment. The political reversal was greeted with jubilation by the Tories. Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

    Amid the jubilation and hand-slapping in Downing Street on Thursday when Labor finally abandoned its promise to spend £28 billion on green investment, one person in attendance reached for a literary reference.

    For Michael Gove, minister Community Affairs and a veteran of recent Tory election battles, Sir Keir Starmer's slow-motion flip-flop echoed a dialogue once written by Ernest Hemingway.

    “How did you go bankrupt?” one character asks another in Hemingway's 1926 classic The Sun Also Rises. “Two ways,” came the funny answer. “Gradually and then suddenly.”

    For more than a year, the Conservatives have abandoned Labour's flagship green promise, a deliberate and sustained political attack. And then suddenly it was all gone.

    Sir Keir's major U-turns took place behind closed doors, with the Labor leader briefing journalists behind the scenes and Rachel Reeves, his shadow chancellor, in Parliament. on Thursday morning.

    But that didn’t make it any less significant. Gone is the original 2021 policy of borrowing an extra £28 billion a year to achieve “clean energy” by 2030, and has been replaced by just £4.7 billion a year.

    In a fray in which It was the unions and Ed Miliband, the shadow zero secretary, on one side, and Ms Reeves, the defender of budget rules, on the other, the latter winning.

    “It’s just a wound”

    Mr Miliband remained in office and eventually supported the policy with a factual message on social media, but Tory's joy was obvious. “This is just a wound,” Gove wrote, sharing Miliband’s tweet.

    The political damage, according to Tory strategists, is twofold. Firstly, the money is gone, but the policy to deliver clean energy by 2030 remains.

    Treasury officials, who were told by their Tory special advisers to pay the bond to insulate 19 million homes this week, will now be turned away its attention to other environmental policies of the Labor Party.

    “I feel sorry for them,” said one Conservative who was involved in planning the attacks on Labour. “They have never faced this level of control and pressure before. They don't handle it very well.”

    But the second, broader point is that Sir Keir's change fits exactly the narrative the Tories are projecting – that he has no credible plan for power and cannot be trusted.

    This formulation was developed by Isaac Levido, an Australian strategist who was again given the keys to the Tory campaign machine after orchestrating the 2019 election victory on the principle of “get Brexit done.”

    Better than the devil.

    you know< p>It is based on the hope that, with their pen hovering over the ballot paper, voters will be filled with doubts about what a Starmer premiership will actually deliver, and will instead decide what the hell is best.

    The Tories' core 'our plan works' message introduced this year will be reflected in the spring Budget, when a new wave of tax cuts builds on the autumn National Insurance cuts.

    The measured approach means that the removal of inheritance tax is attractive dropped in the spring over concerns it would be seen as a hindrance to wealthy Tory voters.

    Cutting income tax rates is now at the forefront. -runner, according to one Downing Street insider familiar, given that November's National Insurance cuts had no impact on opinion polls.

    Rishi Sunak pointedly refused to apologize for his tongue-in-cheek comment during the premiere about Sir Keir's past remark that “99.9 per cent” women don't have a penis. Photo: JESSICA TAYLOR/AFP via Getty Images

    However, the volume of Conservative crowing at Sir Keir's change of position has distracted attention from the fact that this week even those who supported the Prime Minister admitted two unforced errors.

    Why Mr Sunak decided to grab Piers Morgan's outstretched hand , when he was offered a £1,000 bet that the Rwanda Deportation Flight would leave before the election is still causing confusion among some in No 10.

    A later purge operation, in which the Prime Minister insisted he wasn't much of a bettor, only to have footage of him eagerly discussing cricket spread betting soon surface, further exacerbated the problem.

    Then there was Mr Sunak's tongue-in-cheek comment about Sir Keir's past remark that “99.9 per cent” of women don't have a penis, a reference that ended up in Prime Minister's Questions even though that he had just been told that murdered Brianna Gay's mother was watching.

    The phrase had been pre-written and placed on the Labor leader's list of twists he would employ when challenged on the Rwanda bet. Some Tory MPs have privately blamed Mr Sunak's blunder on weak political thinking.
    The Prime Minister has refused to apologize, instead doubling down on his attack.

    Triple strike

    It could not be worse mountains on Downing Street. Three days next week are metaphorically circled in red: the danger of a triple whammy looms.

    Inflation data for the year to January will be published on Wednesday. The Treasury estimates it will be around 4.4 percent, which is critically higher than the previous month. This month's £100 rise in energy prices will be to blame.

    If this failure in one of the Prime Minister's five priorities – reducing inflation – is not enough, then another one – boosting the economy – a hammer blow may strike on Thursday.

    The public will find out this morning whether the UK is in a technical recession when economic growth figures for the fourth quarter of 2023 are published. There was a slight decline in the third quarter.

    “He is on a knife's edge,” said one Whitehall statistics insider. In an interview with Piers Morgan, the Prime Minister struggled to articulate exactly how he would explain the recession, given his focus on economic growth.

    And then, early Friday morning, he could announce a doubling of economic growth. – the defeat of the Conservatives at the election, which again brings to the fore questions about Mr Sunak's electability.

    The fact that Tory whips did not give the usual orders to MPs to campaign at least three times in by-elections – in this case in Kingswood and Wellingborough, controlled by the Conservatives, is a sign of pessimism.

    “It is so. extraordinary,” said one Conservative MP. “One can only assume they wrote it off.” No, 10 insiders are speculating as much, privately predicting a couple of losses.

    Ed Miliband, the net-zero shadow minister, remained in his post after Labor reneged on its pledge to invest in greens £28 billion investment. He eventually endorsed the policy in a social media post. Photo: Jonathan Brady/PA

    Tory plotters seeking the Prime Minister's resignation do not expect new MPs to repeat Sir Simon Clarke's public call for resignation after the by-election. The real danger point is the expected heavy losses in the May local elections.

    But they remain disappointed. “It's not working. Every week highlights that,” says one of those who want Mr Sunak to go.

    “The problem with the Prime Minister is that he is out of touch, rich and people don't like him.” Expect similar criticism to be heard, officially or unofficially, in the days following the by-election.

    The hat-trick nightmare may not come true, of course. The economy can and does grow, simply. A miracle can still happen before the elections. But the reality of the polls still hangs over the party, with Labor leading by 20 points and an election expected in October or November.

    Proven winners

    And so those planning the Tory campaign found their thoughts turning to two proven winners, the only Conservatives to win a majority in the House of Commons this century: Lord Cameron and Boris Johnson.

    Both men are proven winners . to seek prominent roles in the upcoming elections.

    The situation of the foreign minister is simpler. A return to the front bench saw Lord Cameron become Sunak's public defender. The former Tory leader, a political professional, is believed to continue to attract centrist voters.

    With Mr. Johnson, things are more complicated. He has a role that could pit him against Sir Keir in some of the campaign's high-profile moments.

    “He is an exceptional campaigner,” said one Conservative.

    And yet, has Boris really forgiven everything? Is the man who blames Mr Sunak more for his ouster than anyone else, including himself, ready to put his shoulder to the wheel of re-election? Mr Sunak's bombshell comment this week that he spoke to Mr Johnson before Christmas and would not rule out a cabinet return appears to be obscuring the real state of their relationship.

    Apart from a brief greeting, it is reported that at a Remembrance Sunday event last November Mr Johnson and Mr Sunak had not spoken in four months.

    “They don't speak,” said one friend of Boris. “The Prime Minister is not picking up his phone.”

    However, in recent weeks, channels have opened between Johnson and Sunak's inner circle. And even the same friend of Boris predicted that the former prime minister would say yes to attempts to re-elect the Tories.

    Sir Keir's abandonment of green investment raises the possibility that other politicians could yet change. As one of Labour's shadow cabinet ministers put it, the biggest risk to their victory is that “we've screwed it up.”

    After a week in which the Tories finally won the £28 billion war, Mr. Sunak will be looking for sharper U-turns if he can keep the fire off his feet.

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