Rishi Sunak has two problems, says Robert Shrimsley in the FT. The first is that parties typically win elections by “finding dragons to slay”, but voters seem to think his government is the problem that needs solving. The second is that disillusioned supporters “simply don’t vote”. So what he needs is a “new dragon” to energise his base. With an unexpected Tory win in last week’s Uxbridge by-election – widely attributed to a backlash against the Ulez tax on polluting cars – he might have found one.
Standing firm against costly, Labour-backed green policies not only has a certain electoral appeal; it may also be the glue that holds together a political campaign against “liberal orthodoxy”. Think of it as the “battle with Big Everything”: a conservative assault on “The Blob” – including Whitehall, “lefty” lawyers and judges, the media, eco-types, universities and trans-rights campaigners. In short, the hated “woke liberal establishment”. The Tories can argue persuasively that while Brexit freed us from Brussels, its “leftist ideologies” are still embedded in the culture – and that these “dark forces”, rather than any government failures, are holding Britain back. Before Ulez, this reasoning seemed abstract. “Now Tories can put a price on it.” You don’t have to buy the argument to see its potential power. Can it save the Conservatives? Perhaps not. “But it might give them a dragon.”