Campaign Messaging Can’t Save Sunak and Britain’s Tories

Campaign Messaging Can’t Save Sunak and Britain’s Tories
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announces the date of the U.K.’s upcoming general election outside 10 Downing Street, in London, May 22, 2024 (Press Association photo by Lucy North via AP Images).

More often than not, the ultimate fate of an election campaign can be discerned through the information that those who are organizing it decide to leak to friendly journalists. When opinion polls indicate that a party is on course for victory, campaign strategists and political consultants are quick to take credit for the electoral messaging that supposedly ensured a decisive margin of victory. If, however, signs of a disaster at the ballot box begin to accumulate, the same campaign operatives can swiftly exhibit mercenary opportunism in deflecting blame for a party’s collapse onto the shoulders of the political leaders that hired them.

With the U.K.’s governing Conservative Party struggling to close a 20 percent gap with the opposition Labour Party in opinion polls just a month before national elections on July 4, a strenuous effort to protect personal reputations from blame for the looming fiasco has already been launched by everyone involved in Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s campaign. Less than 72 hours after Sunak asked King Charles III to dissolve Parliament late last month, several journalists were already reporting that Isaac Levido—a shrewd Australian consultant who is now the senior Tory campaign strategist—and desperate government ministers had been in favor of delaying the election until October.

Since then, Tory policy proposals such as a program of national service for 18-year-olds and tighter caps on the number of visas issued for legal immigration have failed to improve the party’s fortunes in opinion polls. As a result, consultants whose careers depend on a reputation for successfully shaping public opinion will be even more tempted to blame Sunak as a flawed messenger, rather than reexamine the content of his campaign’s message.

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