Patrick O’Flynn Patrick O’Flynn

Whisper it, but Rishi Sunak has had a good week

The 'Hardest Geezer' and Rishi Sunak (Photo: Number 10)

If you have been doing as badly as Rishi Sunak has as prime minister, then it doesn’t take much to register a notable improvement.

Yet there is no point in his detractors denying that over the past week he has done just that. First, he got stuck into the issue of Britain’s burgeoning ‘sick note culture’.

Left-wing brickbats predictably followed. Lib Dem leader Ed Davey accused him of ‘attempting to blame the British people for his own government’s failures’, while Labour’s Matthew Pennycook complained that he was pursuing a ‘cheap headline’.

But headlines are headlines and if they are cheap then so much the better in these cash-strapped days. Most people will have agreed with Sunak. Especially most of those remotely open to the idea of voting Conservative at the next election.

Headlines are headlines and if they are cheap then so much the better in these cash-strapped days

Then House of Lords resistance to the Rwanda Bill was finally crushed by Sunak and the measure was granted royal assent. Even those of us who doubt the Rwanda scheme will prove a large or durable deterrent against illegal immigration can hardly fail to be cheered by learning that it has already led to hundreds of irregular migrants bolting over the Irish border – much to the chagrin of the powers-that-be in Dublin.

Next Sunak unveiled a long-term commitment to raise UK defence expenditure to 2.5 per cent of GDP. Yes, it may well mainly be intended as a political trap for an incoming Labour administration and smoke and mirrors were clearly at work when Downing Street touted it as ‘an additional £75 billion for defence’. But nonetheless, it is a significant and welcome undertaking.

Finally, Sunak went for a run with Russ Cook, AKA the ‘Hardest Geezer’ who has just raised £1 million for charity (no smoke or mirrors) by running the length of Africa. This may seem a dubious thing to talk up, but it was a very sure-footed kind of run: some two miles around St James’s and Green parks while engaging in jolly banter.

As political runs go it was about as good as it gets: far removed from the vision of Michael Gove running like a nun being pursued by a bee, as memorably described by Times columnist Janice Turner and even farther from the elephantine plodding of Boris Johnson.

Instead, Sunak managed to be sort of cool. And the video he posted on social media was a mini-masterpiece that might even persuade some more normal people to like or rate him.

That’s a whole week without a disaster, then. If one combines this with the sense that his party’s main opponents – Labour and Reform – are not currently showing their best sides to the electorate then there is a case to be made for Sunak’s prospects not being quite as bleak we previously supposed.

Angela Rayner’s brilliantly brutal description of him as a ‘pint-size loser’ may have hit home just as effectively as Johnson’s description of Starmer as a ‘pointless human bollard’ once did. But then again, which one in that pairing is still standing?

Nobody around the Prime Minister should yet be confusing him with a successful or popular statesman. But recent data from Ipsos Mori shows that Starmer’s Labour polls worse than Ed Miliband’s Labour of 2014 on the key metrics ‘keeps its promises’, ‘understands problems facing Great Britain’, ‘good team of leaders’ and ‘fit to govern’. Obviously the Tory rating on all these has tanked disastrously compared to a decade ago, yet it is undeniable that the opposition party is yet to seal the deal with the public.

Next weekend brings the aftermath of the local elections and the Blackpool South by-election. Probably the past seven days or so will by then be looking like the proverbial dead cat bounce for Sunak. But as the Hardest Geezer could no doubt tell him, progress can only be made one step at a time.