Sunak’s predecessors killed Tories, he presided over its burial
Rishi Sunak, Britain's first Asian prime minister, leaves 10 Downing Street with his wife after the Labour party swept the UK general elections, crushing the Conservatives | AP/PTI

Sunak’s predecessors killed Tories, he presided over its burial

Sunak was brought in by Tory MPs to clean up the mess; it was too much for the 44-year-old, novice politician who became an MP for the first time only in 2015

Rishi Sunak will go down in history as the first British-Indian prime minister of Great Britain. But after the July 4 general election, he will also be known as the man who led the Conservative Party to its worst election defeat in history.

The bloodbath that happened on Thursday when the Conservative Party lost 251 MPs, bringing their tally down to a mere 121 MPs in the House of Commons was not all Sunak’s fault, even though he took full responsibility for the loss as he conceded defeat.

Lonely figure

In his final speech as prime minister, Sunak looked dejected and cut a lonely figure outside No. 10 Downing Street, with only his Indian, billionaire-heiress wife Akshata Murty standing behind him, umbrella in hand, in case the heavens opened up as they did six weeks ago when Sunak surprised everyone by announcing the general election earlier than he needed to.

Accepting responsibility, Sunak apologised to the country and to so many of the Tory candidates who were not elected. “I have heard your anger and your disappointment and take responsibility for the loss,” Sunak told the country. However, the real responsibility for the defeat lies with Sunak’s predecessors, former prime ministers Boris Johnson and Liz Truss.

Destined to lose

From the very beginning this was an election for the Conservatives to lose rather than for Labour to win, and how spectacularly did they do it! Boris Johnson won the 2019 election with a historic majority, winning 365 of the 650 seats in the House of Commons.

However, he squandered his credibility with scams and partying in Downing Street during the Covid Lockdown. By the time Johnson was forced to resign in September 2022 – Sunak being the first to stab him in the back – the Conservatives’ popularity was already on a downward turn.

Liz Truss disaster

Johnson’s successor Liz Truss was a disaster. During the shortest premiership in history – just 45 days – Truss managed to crash the economy and leave the Conservative Party in tatters. The Tories never really recovered from this debacle.

Sunak was brought in by the Conservative MPs to clean up the mess but it was too much for the 44-year-old, novice politician who became an MP for the first time only in 2015.

The British public had had enough of the buffoonery of Johnson and the childish squabbling and chaos in the Conservative Party. Ideally an election should have been called in October 2022 for a change of guard. But in their desire to cling to power, the Conservative MPs made Sunak their leader and prime minister.

Farage factor

Labour’s lead in the opinion polls was already in double digits even as Sunak took charge. It only grew as Sunak made one bad decision after another.

Six weeks ago, when Sunak announced the election, polls were giving Labour a 20-point lead over the Tories, but the real bomb was yet to explode. On June 3, maverick politician Nigel Farage announced that he would return to frontline politics both as Reform UK’s leader and candidate from Clacton in Essex.

Farage was the founder member of the far-right UK Independence Party (UKIP) in 1993 whose mission was to take Britain out of the European Union. UKIP then morphed into the Brexit Party and eventually into Reform UK in 2020.

Reform destroys Tories

Having unsuccessfully attempted to be elected to the House of Commons seven times from different parts of the country, Farage announced in March 2021 that he was retiring from politics and resigning from the leadership of Reform UK.

Seeing the public disenchantment with the Tories, Farage last month took the opportunity to fish in muddied waters. He ran a campaign that targeted disgruntled right-wing Conservative voters who were unhappy with the government’s inability to curb immigration.

Racist attack

Around two weeks ago, a Reform campaigner was caught on camera calling Prime Minister Sunak “a f*****g Paki”. No matter how much British-Indians try to distinguish themselves from British-Pakistanis, for racists all South Asians are “Pakis”!

Apart from finally being elected MP on his eighth try, Farage’s Reform UK also won four other seats. But their real success came in the shape of a vote-cutter, splitting the Conservative party votes. Reform queered the Tory pitch in every single seat.

Furious voters

In more than 170 of the Conservative seats that they lost, the Reform vote was greater than the margin of the Conservatives’ defeat. In scores of constituencies where Labour won, Reform had the second largest number of votes pushing the Conservatives into third place.

The pincer effect of angry voters and the rise of Reform was eventually the undoing of the Conservatives. This became evident as big Tory heads rolled all night. From former prime minister Liz Truss, defence minister Grant Shapps, Leader of the House of Commons Penny Mourdant – a total of 44 Tory ministers lost their seats. The fact that Richard Holden, the chairman of the Conservative Party, managed to hold on to his seat with a margin of 20 votes after a recount spoke volumes.

Leicester East

Ironically, the only constituency that the Conservatives managed to gain in the whole election is that of Leicester East where 30-year-old, Indian-origin Shivani Raja managed to beat nine candidates and the incumbent Claudia Webbe and her predecessor, the veteran Labour politician Keith Vaz.

Leicester East has a large South Asian population and has been a safe Labour seat for the past 37 years. Raja managed to win because the Labour vote was split between the official Labour candidate Rajesh Agarwal, Webbe, and Vaz who stood as independents after they were both expelled from the Labour party.

Tactical voting

The story of this election is one of an electorate showing a ruthless determination to eject the Conservatives – and much of it came from Conservative Party voters themselves. It displayed the ultimate success of tactical voting.

Where voters could see the Liberal Democrats beating the Conservative candidate, they moved to the Lib-Dems en masse. Thanks to this the Lib-Dems won 71 seats, a massive jump from their tally of 11 in 2019, making it their highest tally ever. And where Conservative voters could see Labour as the closest rival, but they wanted to punish the Tory party they voted Reform knowing full well that it would not win the seat but allow Labour to defeat the Conservatives.

Starmer’s tribute

As is the tradition in British politics, Sunak has made it clear that he will step down from the leadership of the Conservative Party as soon as the arrangements for the election of a new leader are in place. But he has not said what his own future plans are.

Interestingly, Sunak’s successor, Sir Keir Starmer, was magnanimous in victory, showering praise on Sunak in his first speech as prime minister. “His achievement as the first British Asian prime minister of our country, the extra effort that will have required should not be underestimated by anyone. We pay tribute to that today and recognise that dedication and hard work he brought to his leadership,” said Sir Keir.
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