Rishi Sunak is a drab technocrat mired in a failed political paradigm and with a tin ear for public opinion. And yet to blame him for the current dreadful state of the Conservative party is largely to miss the point.
The Tory party is facing an extinction-level general election result, not primarily because of Sunak but because it has reached a philosophical dead end. It has proved time and again over the past few years that it is incapable of addressing the foundational issue of border control, even while in possession of a bumper House of Commons majority.
As I have pointed out many times before, restoring robustness to our immigration and asylum system is the top priority among Conservative-leaning voters. According to YouGov’s latest issues index, it is running ten points clear of the state of the economy among 2019 Tory voters. And yet such voters have been served up with half a decade’s worth of unremitting failure to control legal immigration levels as well as to ‘stop the boats’.
Take the current Rwanda Bill. Only around 60 Conservative MPs backed amendments designed to bolster it against the disabling prospect of individual appeals and the effect of European Court of Human Rights emergency injunctions. Since then, the head of the ECHR has confirmed its view that member nations are indeed obliged to obey these so-called ‘Rule 39’ orders, just as the Tory rebels had warned.
Yet it is facile to blame Sunak alone for this failure of nerve. During the legislation’s Commons passage leading lights from among the 106-strong ‘One Nation’ caucus of left-wing Tory MPs made clear that the incorporation of strengthening amendments would cause them to join with Labour to vote it down. So no Tory prime minister could have delivered legislation guaranteed to remove illegal immigrants to Rwanda.