First came a reshuffle that saw Suella Braverman ejected from the Home Office and Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton appointed as Foreign Secretary – both prompting mixed feelings among Conservatives already nearing the end of their tether.
Then the Supreme Court ruled against the Government’s Rwanda plan, not only putting the kibosh on Rishi Sunak’s pledge to “stop the boats” but also overshadowing the more positive news that inflation had been halved.
Capped off by the publication of an excoriating departure letter from Mrs Braverman, in which the former home secretary accused the Prime Minister of “magical thinking” and “breaking his promises” on immigration, it’s fair to say Mr Sunak has had better weeks than the past seven days.
Yet his choice to reset the dial with an unexpected speech on Monday morning – just two days before the Chancellor is due to deliver his eagerly-awaited Autumn Statement in the Commons – raised eyebrows, not least when he used it to come up with… another five-point plan.
Having already pledged to halve inflation, grow the economy, reduce debt, cut waiting lists and stop the boats, the Prime Minister took to the lectern at the Enfield Centre in north London to add another “five long-term decisions” into the mix – reducing debt, cutting tax and rewarding hard work, building domestic, sustainable energy, backing British business, and delivering world-class education.
Onlookers could perhaps have been forgiven for wondering how he was possibly going to achieve the latest goals when only one of the first five targets – halving inflation – has so far been met (and there’s even a debate about that).
Echoing his speech at last month’s Tory Party conference, when he optimistically referred to “long-term” decision-making no less than 16 times, the thrust of the perky oration was clear: stick with us because life will be worse under Labour.
As with the return of David Cameron to Cabinet, however, the last-minute move (the media was given just 24 hours notice of the speech) carried the oxymoronic whiff of both innovation and desperation.
Apparently Mr Sunak had originally intended to deliver the speech last week before being overtaken by events. But it seems as though events may also have overtaken what was originally planned for the Autumn Statement. The thinking had been that the Chancellor would save any major tax cuts for next Spring’s Budget, when the county will be closer to going to the polls.
But after a weekend of Jeremy Hunt expressing his desire for taxes to come down, a new online poster campaign promising to “cut tax and reward hard work” and the sudden emergence of £25 billion more “fiscal headroom”, the Government appears to have finally decided to try to win the next general election rather than face a 1997-style wipeout.
As well as taking the fight to Labour to put some “clear blue water” between both parties, behind the scenes, “schmoozing” Mr Sunak is frantically trying to shore up the support of beleaguered backbenchers.
He made a rare appearance in the Commons tea room after Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday and he has invited a group of Right-wingers to Downing Street drinks this week.
It follows an unknown number of MPs, including Dame Andrea Jenkyns, the former skills minister, having submitted letters of no confidence to Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 backbench committee.
Lord Cameron addressed the committee on Monday night, having apparently been told by No 10 to “tone down the centre-Left rhetoric” in a bid to win over sceptical Leavers still bristling at the arch-Remainer’s resurgence after seven years in the political wilderness.
According to one backbencher: “The threat to Rishi isn’t just coming from the Right – anyone with a seat they want to retain is very unhappy with the direction of travel. There are more letters in than people think. The prevailing view of those MPs, some of whom are from the 2019 intake, is that we’ve got nothing to lose. How much worse can it get?”
More experienced Tories have apparently had to caution so-called Red Wallers about the risks of triggering a no-confidence vote without agreeing on a potential successor. “They don’t seem to understand that if it went to a vote without a credible alternative, then Rishi would win it but be even more damaged,” said one.
Suggestions that the Right are galvanising around the newly-liberated Mrs Braverman, however, appear wide of the mark. As one Brexiteer explained: “Suella struggled when she was chairman of the European Research Group, IDS and others had to help a lot, so I’m not sure there’s a lot of support for her being the next leader. She would not unite the party.
“But her letter struck a chord with those who agree with her criticism of the PM’s policy and personality.”
Some Right-wingers are talking up “good performer” Penny Mordaunt, with others suspicious of Kemi Badenoch because of her historic links to Michael Gove. The Business and Trade Secretary has also angered Brexiteers with what one described as her “180-degree pivot” over the Retained EU Law Bill.
“There’s a growing sense that the penny has finally dropped inside No 10 of the desperate mess we are in. That’s why we’ve suddenly got all this talk about tax cuts. They seem to have woken up to what we’ve been telling them for months – that we are going to lose, and lose badly, unless we change course,” said one.
Others are less optimistic. As a well-placed Tory source put it: “Rishi has restored stability and order – but the stability and order of the graveyard. If all you can do is maintain a 20-point deficit, then it is looking more and more like 1997 with every passing day.
“The problem is not just that Sunak is perceived as being too wet, too technocratic and lacking in charisma – it’s that on the policy front he misses every open goal put in front of him. Ok, he watered down net zero, which is deeply unpopular with Tory voters, particularly in the Midlands and the North, but he’s hardly made a song or dance about it.
“The Tories went to Manchester to tell them they couldn’t have a railway. No 10 is a walking political disaster zone. If the strategy now is to open up a division with Labour, then that’s a good thing – but it might all be a case of too little, too late.”