How can Rishi Sunak run the country when his own party is an ungovernable rabble? - Andrew Vine

At the end of today, the Prime Minister could be forgiven for allowing himself a sigh of relief that he has a few weeks’ respite from bruising sessions at the dispatch box.

But before Parliament breaks up for Christmas and the New Year, Rishi Sunak faces a final pummelling of 2023, not in the chamber but at the hands of the Commons Liaison Committee this afternoon.

It is the last act of a few months – and quite possibly an entire year – that the Prime Minister will probably be heartily glad to see the back of.

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Immigration and the contentious bill that Mr Sunak insists will put asylum seekers on planes to Rwanda are sure to be at the top of the committee’s agenda, not least because £290m has been spent with nothing to show for it, but it is far from the only issue that provokes hard questions and no easy answers.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks to pupils in a year one maths class during a visit to the Wren Academy school in Finchley, north London. PIC: Richard Pohle/The Times /PA WirePrime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks to pupils in a year one maths class during a visit to the Wren Academy school in Finchley, north London. PIC: Richard Pohle/The Times /PA Wire
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks to pupils in a year one maths class during a visit to the Wren Academy school in Finchley, north London. PIC: Richard Pohle/The Times /PA Wire

As the country looks forward to the festive season, the number of people on NHS waiting lists stands at more than seven million, just when the service faces its now-familiar winter crisis.

Before spring arrives, we will once again be seeing pictures of people stuck on trolleys in hospital corridors and ambulances queuing outside emergency departments, which might well prompt voters to ask why £290m hasn’t been spent easing the strains instead of on non-existent flights to Rwanda.

The state of the economy is also of concern, even though inflation at last appears to be on a downward trend. Household energy bills are about to rise yet again, putting even more pressure on countless people for whom 2024 will be another year of worrying about how to make ends meet.

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When interviewed last week about the events of the past 12 months, Mr Sunak denied that he becomes tetchy when asked awkward questions. We’ll see for ourselves how true that assertion is this afternoon, because he’s going to face some stinkers.

In fairness to the Prime Minister, he’s got a lot to get tetchy about and most of it is attributable not to political opponents, but those who are supposed to be on his side.

That makes interrogation about his performance from the committee all the more awkward and it will be intriguing to see if any of its members are blunt enough to pose a question that arises in the mind of people all over the country, irrespective of their political persuasion.

How can you run the country when you lead a party that is an ungovernable rabble seemingly determined to chuck you and itself out of office?

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Even a man as intelligent as Mr Sunak would struggle to come up with a convincing answer to that one. But unless he addresses the question of the malcontents on the benches behind him in the Commons, the New Year looks increasingly likely to be his last in Downing Street.

Another by-election looms, this time in Blackpool South, where if the trend that began in Selby and Ainsty in July continues, the Conservatives face a drubbing from Labour in what will be seen as yet another pointer to losing a general election by a wide margin.

If Mr Sunak is searching around for a New Year resolution, a good one might be to somehow make the rival factions of MPs more interested in infighting than working for the benefit of the country realise that unless they stop, they’re finished.

It is almost as if cohorts of Conservative MPs are completely divorced from the reality of their constituents’ lives, existing in a bubble where dogma and personal ambition are paramount.

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That is to be seen in the wrangling over the Rwanda scheme, which will recommence with renewed vigour once Parliament returns.

It is also there in the talk of this or that ex-minister laying the ground for a leadership bid, or the muttering about forcing a confidence vote in Mr Sunak.

And maddest of all, there has even been the notion floated of an alliance between Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage leading the Conservatives to a bright new dawn, ignoring the fact that neither are MPs.

Quite what Mr Sunak, a methodical man who trusts data above all else and scrutinises it in minute detail before making decisions, makes of such a wild fantasy can only be guessed at.

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But the public’s reaction to the mentality of a party that could even conceive of a dream team of two of the most polarising political figures of our age can be gauged, from opinion polls and a run of by-election results from Yorkshire to Bedfordshire, Staffordshire and Somerset which have seen support for the Conservatives collapse.

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