Tuesday 11 June 2024

Will Sunak be remembered as a success after all?


Beauty isn’t the only thing which lies mostly in the eye of the beholder. In generic terms, most judgements as to what is good, bad or indifferent depend to a large extent on our own perspective; we all have our own criteria against which we make that judgement. Take Prime Ministers, for instance. In recent years, the contest for the title of worst ever Prime Minister has become a crowded field, although there are people, not all of them currently in therapy, who sincerely believe that Liz Truss did a brilliant job in the role. Despite the strong competition from her predecessor, to say nothing of her successor, those making a judgement based less on fantasy and more on the lived experience of the majority are more likely to rate her as top contender for that title of ‘worst’. It’s a record with which it’s hard for Sunak to compete.

It follows that being regarded as the worst is a race to the bottom that Sunak has probably concluded that he can’t win, although his recent emulation of the Johnsonian technique of simply making it up as he goes along has convinced some that he’s still half trying. But all PMs who can see their time coming to an end start to worry about their ‘legacy’ – how they will be seen by future generations. As that reference to future generations suggests, the ‘legacy’ of any PM can only be properly judged after a suitably lengthy period of time has passed. Maybe Sunak isn’t aiming for the title of ‘worst’, but the title of ‘best’, and just knows that it will take time for people to recognise his outstanding contribution, and identify the correct assessment criteria.

There is still one thing that he could achieve in his remaining month in the job which history would view as a huge positive step to have taken, and that is this: the complete annihilation of the English Conservative and Unionist Party. It would be a truly stupendous achievement for any leader to take his or her party from overwhelming electoral dominance to oblivion in just five years, and even if we give his immediate two predecessors some credit for building the foundations for the Sunak oblivion project, it’s still a remarkable success story for him in the mere two years he’s had in charge.

Given that his own seat is something like the fiftieth safest for his party, losing that one, leaving him free to push off to California soon after, would also suit his own personal agenda as well as being a major step towards his own version of net zero. Some might see this as some sort of failure, but any balanced view of history is surely more likely to judge it a success. Whether he can actually drive the dial all the way down to zero is currently an open question, but no-one can accuse him of not trying. It may take time – not least to ensure that the beast is well and truly dead, rather than merely resting – but Sunak may yet end up being credited with the most significant political change in recent UK history.

The one thing that stands in the way of him getting the recognition he would deserve for achieving his mission is that the political gap is likely to be filled by another party moulded by its own current leader into a carbon copy of what Sunak’s party was a mere 14 years ago. It would perhaps be unfair for Sunak’s achievement to be sullied in such a fashion, but when did fairness enter the equation?

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