Join the PubAffairs Network

Established in January 2002, PubAffairs is the premier network and leading resource for the public affairs, government relations, policy and communications industry.

The PubAffairs network numbers over 4,000 members and is free to join. PubAffairs operates a general e-Newsletter, as well as a number of other specific group e-Newsletters which are also available to join by completing our registration form.

The PubAffairs e-Newsletters are used to keep members informed about upcoming PubAffairs events and networking opportunities, job vacancies, public affairs news, training courses, stakeholder events, publications, discount offers and other pieces of useful information related to the public affairs and communications industry.

Join the Network

Labour have focused for months on an attack line that Rishi Sunak is too weak as Prime Minister. Too weak to stand up to backbenchers on Brexit. Too weak to stand up to his Home Secretary. Too weak to block Boris’ honours list.
An attack always lands better when it plays on something the public already thinks – recall when David Cameron successfully deployed ‘weak’ against Ed Miliband. The public know the Conservatives are divided and that Sunak has so far resisted causing an outright war with those loyal to Boris Johnson or Liz Truss by criticising his predecessors.

According to YouGov, 57% of the public believe Sunak to be weak, and only 18% believe him to be strong. This is particularly concerning with the increasing presidential-style of UK elections, whereby the popularity of the leader is so critical to whether or not a Party wins or loses.

Sunak knows he needs to address this and has been looking for issues on which he can stand up and be counted. This week he alighted on an issue near and dear to some: the Elgin Marbles. For decades, this has been a regular spat between the UK and Greek governments. With the Greek Prime Minister in London this week the timing was perfect. After PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis made the usual demand for the Marbles to be returned to Athens, he promptly had his meeting with Sunak cancelled. No 10 insisted they had been very clear to the Greeks the issue should not be mentioned, to which they allegedly agreed.

Unfortunately for Sunak, Keir Starmer was able to meet with the Greeks and reprimand them over the Marbles all at the same time – turning the moment into yet another attack on the PMs weakness.

Sunak wasn’t deterred though: he immediately picked a more heavyweight fight in criticising China. At the COP28 gathering in Dubai, he warned countries should take a “hard look” in the mirror and ask if they were delivering on their climate promises, singling out China. Unfortunately, if China were to be extremely cheeky, they might point out that they have the most wind farms in the world, and it was Sunak who recently went back on some climate promises…

It’s a classic example of a political perception problem that’s easy to diagnose and difficult to fix. Attempting to look strong on the international stage is not without its merits, but what really turns voters around is what is happening domestically – the pound in their pocket and how long they wait for their GP appointment.

If Sunak is to successfully show himself as the “change” candidate, he would do well to stand up to his own Party and his predecessors. He simply cannot claim to be the change the country needs without admitting the failures of Johnson and Truss. The longer he waits to do this, the less time he’ll have to win back voters.