Picture by Simon Dawson / No 10 Downing Street

The Conservatives’ ‘super-majority’ warning has already backfired on Rishi Sunak

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Rishi Sunak took part in a deftly timed LBC radio phone-in this morning, hours after it was announced that inflation fell to 2 per cent in May.

It marks the first time inflation has been at the Bank of England’s target since July 2021 — before the cost of living crisis saw the rate of price rises shoot up to a 41-year high of 11.1 per cent in October 2022.

Halving inflation, of course, was the first of the prime minister’s “five pledges” for government — a feat he achieved in November when the ONS announced inflation had fallen below 5.3 per cent. (That’s half of 10.7 per cent — the rate in January 2023 when Sunak first unveiled his pledges).

That inflation has now fallen to the Bank of England’s target is a rare boost for the prime minister — who, remember, announced he was calling an election after last set of inflation figures were released.

On the steps of Downing Street that fateful May day, a sodden Sunak declared that the UK economy had “turned a corner” as inflation fell to 2.3 per cent.

In theory then, today’s figures buttress Sunak’s economic message this election. But it begs a question: will the further fall in inflation register as a political win for the desperately in need prime minister?

Well, put aside the fact that inflation is primarily the responsibility of the Bank of England and that it isn’t entirely clear how the government’s action has precipitated a fall in the rate of price rises — and the answer is still, most probably, no.

The Conservatives’ messaging this campaign has been haywire — an unruly combination of attempting to persuade voters of their economic case, that Keir Starmer is to be feared and that Labour should be deprived of a “supermajority”. In this vein, the Tory manifesto contained a maelstrom of flashy commitments — but no neat underlying narrative.

Back in the day, Sunak’s “five pledges” amounted to a deliberate effort to contour the terrain on which the next election would be fought. The pledges, seemingly, were the essential Sunakian pitch: in time, he would point to his New Year promises, declare success and hope to persuade voters that this record of delivery vindicated the Conservatives’ case for a fifth term.

But how the tectonic plates of British politics have since shifted. Today, the Conservatives are too busy telling the British public they are going to lose for any political boosts, like falling inflation, to meaningfully register.

This morning, work and pensions secretary Mel Stride (a man only slightly less conspicuous than Sunak this election) became the latest to warn of a mammoth Labour victory on the 4th of July.

He said: “If you take these polls and extrapolate that into a result, you could end up seeing a Labour government with 450 or 460 seats, the largest majority virtually in the history of this country.”

For those keeping track, it is a week today since defence secretary Grant Shapps first warned of a Labour “supermajority”. But there is a sense the rhetoric is already escalating.

As such, Welsh secretary David TC Davies, speaking to The Sun’s Never Mind the Ballots programme, warns today: “I look at the opinion polls right — can’t hide, can’t run away. … They never get it 100 per cent right. But they’re clearly pointing at a large Labour majority. I don’t know how large that will be. But you know, I’m not stupid either. You cannot dismiss every single opinion poll”.

“Keir Starmer will walk into Downing Street”, he adds.

Over four weeks into the campaign, it is clear that the Labour “supermajority” line is no less than the Conservatives’ central message this election. And it could be leading to some nasty unintended consequences.

Not only is it crowding out Sunak’s pitch on the economy, worse still, it is depressing the Conservative campaign and voter base at large. I was struck by the message of an anonymous Conservative minister this morning, sent into the media aether via the Mail’s Dan Hodges. The minister told Dan: “The Labour Supermajority line is completely backfiring. It’s totally disillusioning our base. People are saying ‘What’s the point?’. I’ve had fewer workers out this week than last week. And that was the heart of the D-Day fiasco.”

As such, the supermajority line is having the exact opposite effect to that which was intended: rather than energising the Tory base, talk of Labour “supermajority” is sucking the remaining life out of the Conservative election machine. Who could have predicted that?

Interestingly, former Conservative cabinet minister Michael Portillo is another to highlight the manifold problems with Sunak’s “supermajority” line. He told GB News yesterday evening: “I rather assume that whilst half the party talks of winning and the other half warns of an upcoming Labour supermajority the voters will shut their ears to both.”

As the former defence secretary goes on to note, Tory warnings of Starmergeddon could make further “Portillo moments” more, not less, likely. Sunak’s supermajority prophecy, simply, is on the verge of fulfilling itself.

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