The moment Rishi Sunak’s team knew his leadership dream was over

It prompted concern about a forthcoming stunt in which a mocked-up children’s picture book and audiobook entitled “Liz Truss’s fantasy economy plan” were to be distributed to Westminster journalists.

Despite being designed and ready for production, the books were cancelled amid the feeling that Mr Sunak’s own economic credentials were no longer beyond reproach.

Other internal policy U-turns followed. Three days later, on July 30, a planned “anti-woke” speech pledging a review of the Equality Act was sent to newspapers in advance and written up for the next day’s editions before being quietly cancelled in the morning.

The speech’s absence did not make headlines, but it caused consternation in Mr Sunak’s team.

“Nobody knew what was happening any more, on the ground or in HQ,” said one frustrated staffer. “If you were really to boil it down and say what went wrong, it was the communication.”

Three weeks later, another crowd-pleasing policy, to raise the national speed limit to 80mph, was scrapped before being announced in a last-minute change to the Number 10-style “grid” governing the communications plan.

Some chalk these failures up to Mr Sunak’s staff, many of whom have never worked on a leadership campaign.

The campaign’s day-to-day operations are run by two of his closest Treasury advisers, Liam Booth-Smith and Rupert Yorke, with the press handled by Nerissa Chesterfield, his former departmental comms chief, and policy by James Nation, a former special adviser.

The whole operation is chaired by one of Mr Sunak’s closest allies, Oliver Dowden, who presided over four major by-election losses as the Conservative Party chairman.

The team is close, with Mr Booth-Smith handing out Kinder Eggs and pairs of socks as prizes to the hardest working activists and hosting colleagues for dinner parties at his home.

“It’s a very tight-knit team and I think that’s part of the reason he hasn’t done very well,” said one observer. “The people who were around him when things started to go wrong are still the people who are in the room.”

Leave a Comment