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Sunak’s Leadership Questioned Amid Election Turmoil: Will He Stay or Step Aside?

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Sunak supporter Stride does not help his leader when answering questions about the Prime Minister's prospects

It has been over four decades since there were last mid-campaign concerns about a struggling party leader lasting until the vote.

Senior political reporter @joncraig

Monday, June 10, 2024, 3:

During an election campaign, it's unusual for someone to pose such a question to a high-ranking cabinet official.

Indeed, it has been over four decades since similar concerns surfaced during a campaign about whether a struggling party leader would survive until the election day.

In a recent segment on Sky News, Trevor Phillips put the question to Mel Stride regarding Rishi Sunak's recent D-Day debacle: "Will he be at the helm for your party in the upcoming election?"

Election update: Conservatives allegedly use 'desperation meter' to dictate policy decisions

The secretary of work and pensions, a key ally of the Prime Minister, responded positively.

"Definitely," he responded. "And there shouldn't be any doubt about it."

The issue has been brought up. By addressing it seriously instead of dismissing it, the unfortunate Mr. Stride has inadvertently not done his good friend, the Prime Minister, any favors.

During their conversation, Trevor challenged Mr. Stride by saying, "Regardless of Mr. Sunak's capabilities in management, many might see this and conclude that he is not the right leader for this moment.

"Wouldn't it be both brave and ethical for him to declare that his own mistakes and flaws are steering his party towards failure, and that he will resign to help preserve seats that are likely to be lost if he remains in charge for another month?"

The topic came up after Nadine Dorries posted on Twitter, suggesting: "I've long believed that Cameron was swiftly elevated to the Lords and given a high-ranking ministerial role for a purpose. Initially, I suspected it was to take over from Sunak sooner rather than later."

Then, with a hint of mischief, she remarked, "There's chatter tonight suggesting Sunak might just resign. The pool of candidates is limited to ministers only, as there are no MPs available. Should Sunak step down, his successor would need to be appointed from among the current ministers."

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Take his own downfall? No contemporary prime minister has ever resigned or been expelled in the midst of an election campaign. And unless Mr. Sunak chooses to step down on his own—a highly improbable scenario—it's clearly too late to switch leaders now that parliament has been dissolved.

For example, the 1922 Committee lacks officers to manage a transition, even in a scenario where there is no challenger, as was the case when Mr. Sunak succeeded following Liz Truss's downfall. The committee's famously secretive and reserved chairman, Sir Graham Brady, is not participating in the election.

The surviving members of the 2022 executive committee, often colloquially referred to as "the men in grey suits" — fabled to possess the ability to present a struggling party leader with "a glass of whisky and a pearl-handled revolver in a darkened room" — are currently in their respective electoral districts, striving to secure their positions.

The mere proposal of a leadership change, even if it comes from the unorthodox advocate for Boris Johnson, Ms. Dorries, highlights two significant aspects of the ongoing election campaign.

For further details: Sunak commits to reducing the increasing expenses of benefits; Labour vows to create thousands of additional prison spots.

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It underscores the gravity of Mr. Sunak's D-Day error, which is being talked about as possibly the most critical misstep of the election campaign.

This suggests that even if he manages to hold on to his position as leader of the Conservative Party until July 4, his tenure is likely temporary.

Regarding the Labour Party, its regulations, which were revised following John Smith's passing in 1994, are more explicit. Should the leader be unable to perform their duties for any reason, the deputy leader—presently Angela Rayner—will assume the role until a new election is conducted.

The last instance of uncertainty about a party leader's continuation through an election campaign occurred in 1983, when Michael Foot, heading the Labour Party, faced a significant loss against Margaret Thatcher.

Stay informed with the most recent updates from the UK and international news by tuning into Sky News.

During a morning press briefing held at Transport House, which served as the headquarters for both the Labour Party and the Transport and General Workers' Union, Labour's general secretary Jim Mortimeter left political reporters amazed.

"He stated without being asked that the entire campaign committee agrees Michael Foot is the Labour Party's leader and represents the party's voice," he declared. Truly? The reporters present were momentarily speechless, hardly able to grasp his words.

Television commentator Clive James, who at the time contributed to The Observer, was among the first to respond. He remarked, "Oh, so there was a discussion about this, was there?"

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The memory is clear in my mind, as I was present. I heard Mr. Mortimer declare, "After our discussion, we have unanimously decided that Michael will be our leader."

In that vote, Margaret Thatcher secured a victory with a margin of 144 seats. Following the D-Day disaster, the Tories are hopeful that Mr. Sunak won’t guide the Conservatives to a loss as significant as that in 2024.

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