British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak could find himself in a familiar situation after his Conservative Party was defeated in parliamentary elections in two constituencies on Thursday: isolated, besieged and the subject of whispered conspiracies from restive Tories bent on ousting him to a new leader.

The crushing loss of two seats in areas once reliable for the Conservative party capped another dismal week for Sunak. Economic data confirmed on Thursday that Britain had fallen into recession late last year, undermining one of the prime minister’s five main promises: that he would recharge the country’s growth.

However, analysts said the plot against Sunak is no more likely to go anywhere than during his previous leadership crises. However desperate the Conservatives’ political difficulties may be, they would find it difficult, at this late stage, to replace their languishing prime minister with anyone else.

With the party divided between centrists and right-wingers, and a general election around the corner in a few months, the conditions are ripe for an internal party coup, of the kind that ousted the last two Conservative leaders, Liz Truss and Boris Johnson, are becoming more difficult every day, according to analysts.

Sunak could still be purged like Johnson and Truss. But his most likely fate, these analysts said, is to be swept out of office by the opposition Labor Party, which won both seats on Thursday decisively and has led the Conservatives by double-digit margins in national polls for more than one year.

“I wouldn’t completely rule out the idea that he could have left at the end of the month, but it seems pretty unlikely to me,” Timothy Bale, a politics professor at Queen Mary University of London, said of Sunak. . “I think most Conservative MPs are still convinced that would make them look ridiculous.”

Support for the Conservatives never recovered from Truss’s calamitous 44-day stint as prime minister, which ended with her resignation after she had to reverse tax cuts that alarmed financial markets and caused interest rates to soar. But the party’s long decline began during Johnson’s scandal-scarred term.

There were echoes of the Johnson era in the elections held in Wellingborough, a constituency in Northamptonshire, where Conservative Member of Parliament Peter Bone was ousted by voters following a sexual misconduct and harassment scandal.

At the 2019 general election, the Conservatives won the seat by over 18,000 votes. This time, voters elected the Labor candidate, Gen Kitchen, by a margin of 6,436 votes – the largest vote loss the Conservatives have suffered in a post-war by-election for a seat they were defending.

In the other election, in Kingswood, near Bristol, Labor won a Conservative seat vacated by Chris Skidmore, the energy minister. He had resigned to protest against the government’s plan to issue more licenses to extract oil and gas from the North Sea. The Conservatives had won the seat by more than 11,000 votes in 2019. This time, Labor candidate Damien Egan won it by 2,501 votes.

While each race had its own peculiar characteristics, both reflected a deep-rooted voter fatigue with the Conservatives, who have led the government for 14 years. Sunak did not bother to campaign in any of the constituencies, demonstrating the party’s low hopes of retaining the seats.

However, these elections are often seen as a harbinger of a party’s performance in the general election, and these defeats confirmed the ominous outlook for the Conservatives. With polls showing hundreds of Conservative lawmakers could lose their seats, the atmosphere within the party is now bordering on panic, according to officials.

That is why each new electoral setback raises speculation that the conservatives will turn against their leader. Even before Thursday’s vote, Sunak had compounded those concerns with a series of policy blunders.

In an interview with TV presenter Piers Morgan, Sunak appeared to accept a £1,000 (about $1,260) bet that Britain would put asylum seekers on a plane to Rwanda before the next general election. Critics pounced on him for betting on the lives of people crossing the English Channel in small boats.

Sunak was then criticized for making a joke in the House of Commons about Labour’s position on transgender people. As Sunak spoke, the mother of Brianna Ghey, a transgender teenager who had been murdered, was visiting Parliament. Sunak repeatedly refused to apologize.

While Sunak inherited a embattled party, an economy battered by the coronavirus pandemic, a health system in crisis and war in Ukraine, analysts said these episodes revealed a worrying deficit in his political instincts.

“He is not a particularly compelling politician, which is not entirely surprising given that his rise to the top was so rapid,” said Professor Bale, who has written several books on the Conservative Party.

To be sure, Sunak never presented himself as a kind politician, but rather as a responsible steward of the British economy after Truss. But having calmed markets, he has found it difficult to develop policies to recharge Britain’s growth or reduce the red ink of its public finances.

“They are neither stupid nor economically illiterate,” Jonathan Portes, an economics professor at Kings College London, said of Sunak and his chancellor, Jeremy Hunt. “But they have essentially given up trying to do anything more than lay short-term traps for the opposition.”

Sunak dug a deeper hole with his five goals. As well as restoring growth, he promised to halve the inflation rate, reduce public debt, stop the flow of ships through the channel and reduce waiting times in NHS hospitals. He has achieved none of them except reducing inflation, so the Bank of England arguably deserves much of the credit.

“He keeps promising to do things that he can’t do in the time he has,” said Robert Ford, a professor of politics at the University of Manchester. “It just pisses off his base because he can’t deliver, and they know it.”

Still, the process of unseating Sunak would be challenging, even for a party famous for its ruthlessness in dismissing unpopular leaders. Unless he agrees to step aside, which he shows no signs of doing, more than 50 Conservative lawmakers would have to turn against Sunak to force a no-confidence vote. Lawmakers can send letters pressing for a contest privately; It is unknown how many have done so.

But very few have publicly called on the prime minister to resign. When Simon Clarke, a former minister, did so recently, he was quickly overruled by his Conservative colleagues, one of whom advised him to find a dark room, lie down and tidy up. Lawmakers know that a change in leadership would expose the party’s internal divisions unless a consensus emerged on a successor to Sunak.

That seems very unlikely. Much of the agitation against Sunak is coming from the right. Critics such as David Frost, who was once an adviser to Johnson, have warned that the party is headed for defeat and that if it does not act, “there will soon be nothing but smoking rubble,” as Frost put it.

The most prominent potential right-wing leadership candidate is Kemi Badenoch, the business secretary, who has insisted on her loyalty to Sunak even after news reports that she is a member of a WhatsApp group of Conservative lawmakers called “Evil Plotters.” . Hardline former home secretary Suella Braverman, who was sacked from her job by Sunak, is also mentioned as having leadership ambitions.

However, the party’s centrists would probably resist installing a polarizing figure in Downing Street before the election. A more likely compromise option would be Penny Mordaunt, the leader of the House of Commons, whose profile soared when she took a leading role in the coronation of King Charles III last year.

“Given the polls, it could be a last roll of the dice,” Professor Bale said. But, he added, “Even she would think it’s better to stick with Sunak and hope that the economy has finally hit bottom and is on its way up.”

By Sam