I don’t like Mondays

Rishi Sunak has had enough of domestic politics, and is hoping a shooting war in the Red Sea will sway his fortunes


It was, depending on your perspective, a jolly or a dismal Monday. The Telegraph had published a seat-by-seat poll that suggested the Conservatives were on course for the kind of electoral drubbing that leads referees to intervene on safety grounds.

This is presumably part of an effort to shift Rishi Sunak and replace him with someone who has an authentically crazy glint in their eye

It had accompanied this with an “analysis” by Lord David Frost, explaining that people are thinking of voting Labour because the Conservatives aren’t yet mad enough. The electorate could only be won back with a full-throated commitment to total lunacy that would see weekends outlawed and junior doctors shot at dawn. I think I have that right.

This is presumably part of an effort to shift Rishi Sunak and replace him with someone who has an authentically crazy glint in their eye. All this has the full support of the sketchwriting community. The only thing I can think of that would lift the spirits in this cold grim month more than a Conservative leadership contest would be two Conservative leadership contests.

The prime minister, however, was sticking doggedly to his post. “There have been lots of polls over the last year,” he said, an attempt at insouciance that would have been more compelling if every one of those polls hadn’t said pretty much the same thing.

It was all hugely entertaining. If anyone wants my tip for the Tory party, it would be simply to not have spent a decade wallowing in self-indulgent chaos while running public services into the ground. (I’m still trying to work out whom I should invoice for this advice, which is, let’s face it, no more useless than the “narrow path to victory” stuff that the Conservatives have been shelling out for over the past year, but if someone from CCHQ is reading this, just stick a bag of cash in the post.)

In the Commons chamber on Monday afternoon, though, Sunak got an easy time of it from his own side. He was talking about Various Ongoing Wars, and he has the advantage that his party pretty much agrees with him on all of these. First, there was last week’s airstrikes against the Houthis, which he said had been prompted by “the biggest attack on the Royal Navy for decades”. That sounded impressive until you thought about it, and realised it was really a reminder that the senior service has been some distance from the sharp end of things in recent wars.

Keir Starmer replied by also agreeing with the bulk of what Sunak had said. His own goal was to sound Prime Ministerial, which in this case meant saying he’d have done the same thing the prime minister did. Perhaps the most important thing he said was on a different war: “To those listening in Kiev, Moscow or elsewhere in the world, let me be clear, whoever is in government in Britain, the UK will stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes.”

Sunak spent the time repeatedly insisting that there was no link between Gaza and the Houthis

But in the 90 minutes that followed, we were reminded that the Middle East is one of the faultlines between the Labour leader and a chunk of his MPs. Three rows behind Starmer, a determined awkward squad including Zarah Sultana and Richard Burgon was trying to catch the Speaker’s eye. Their complaints were many and varied, including that Sunak had launched the attack without a Commons vote, that the government should be demanding a ceasefire in Gaza, that the attacks on Yemen were an escalation.

Through all these questions, Starmer sat, his face immobile. His views on most of these issues probably aren’t that far from Sunak’s – reading behind the lines, both men seem to feel the Middle East is a region with more than its fair share of unreasonable people – but if he does win power, his party will require delicate management.

Meanwhile Sunak spent the time repeatedly insisting that there was no link between Gaza and the Houthis. Again and again he told MPs there was “no linkage” between the two, and that it would be better if people would stop making one, but the problem is that a link exists if people say it does.

Tomorrow we will be back to normal service as the Commons debates Rwanda, where Labour is united and the Tories are split three ways. But for 90 minutes on Monday, Sunak got to find out how it feels to lead a united party.

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