RISHI Sunak will soon have been UK Prime Minister for a year and will probably hold on for another year before he reluctantly calls an election.

He is not a popular PM, Tory or otherwise, and his ratings are falling – moving inexorably closer to the flatlining Tory ratings.

This is what a “tail-end premiership”, to borrow Roy Jenkins’s phrase, looks like. A premiership after a long period of one-party dominance, when the party in office has run out of ideas and excuses and voters clamour for change.

We saw this mood in the late 1970s with Labour. Jim Callaghan in 1979 paved the way for Thatcher; Gordon Brown in 2010 saw the ascent of David Cameron.

For the Tories, Alec Douglas-Home – premier briefly in 1963-64 – was brushed aside by Harold Wilson, while John Major clung on to office until 1997 but with the arrival of Tony Blair as opposition leader there was an inevitability about Labour winning.

Two factors influence much of the above –and what is happening to Sunak. Apart from Major’s 1992 victory, none of these prime ministers won their mandates but instead inherited someone else’s victory. A deeper dimension is the one that Callaghan touched upon in the 1979 election. Sensing that Thatcher was going to win decisively, he said: “There are times, perhaps once every 30 years, when there is a sea-change in politics.”

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All these descriptions pertain to Sunak and the Tories: 13 years of disastrous government – the savage cost of Osborne’s austerity; the hollowing out of public services despite the highest taxation in 70 years, paying for economic failure, chronic low growth, debt and Brexit collateral.

Sunak is playing a desperate game, incredulous that his “hard work” in the past year has not dented Labour’s poll lead. He is prepared to consider anything to hold on to power, last week abandoning green commitments the party was elected upon while briefing that it will truncate HS2 after billions have been squandered. He is considering a ban on cigarettes for youngsters and slashing inheritance tax for affluent older voters. If that weren’t enough, Sunak is floating yet again a “British Baccalaureate” to replace A-levels when this would be an England-only change.

No coherence runs through any of this, with the only strand being opportunism and throwing everything up in the air. It all has an air of fin de siecle Tory Groundhog Day and the end of an era, not just a premiership. But this time it is different and has major new hazards for anti-Tory Britain and Scotland.

The first is that the Tory Party has morphed into something very different from its predecessors. Secondly, not only is the Starmer agenda threadbare and ultra-cautious, no previous Labour government has succeeded in permanently remaking the political environment since the work done by the first post-war Labour administration.

Traditional Conservatism used to claim it stood for authority, deference, respect for the military and monarchy, a certain set kind of Britishness at home and which acted in defence of its interests abroad (Empire, then the US alliance).

This was known as “Burkean Conservatism” after the 19th century Tory thinker and politician Edmund Burke, who emphasised tradition and opposition to radical change in contrast to the French Revolution.

This long strand of Toryism is all but dead. Its last embodiment is former minister Rory Stewart, who stood for the leadership in 2019 and finished fifth, and who now wanders book festivals politically homeless and looking to find a receptive audience for his ideas.

Conservatism in the past 13 years has increasingly embraced a punitive, dehumanising politics less interested in government and governing, and more in posture, positioning and partisanship. Frequent outlandish and unworkable measures are presented to keep the Tories’ increasingly hysterical allies in the media salivating, to outflank and confuse political opponents, or to gain narrow party advantage.

Recent events – Brexit, Corbyn, the sheer paucity of the Tory record – have weaponised their drive into the desolate margins of the ultra-right but the transformation has longer-term influences. Post-1997 was a significant watershed in remaking the party. William Hague was the last leader elected by the old franchise of MPs alone, with voting then opening to the membership – hence producing such leaders as Iain Duncan Smith, Boris Johnson and Liz Truss – all of whose tenures ended in tears. Michael Howard in 2003, Theresa May in 2016 and Rishi Sunak in 2022 never had their leadership validated by members but that was for want of alternative candidates.

Another factor has been the morphing of Tory funding. Previously this was a mix of the party grassroots and business, with neither having a direct say on policy and government. Now the party relies on an entitled class of the super-rich and dark monies from finance capitalism, which thinks and is told their money should buy access and influence, thus aiding the corrupting of the party, government and honours system.

Add to this an increasingly hyper-partisan right-wing media who are happy to act as apologists for the party and this contributes to a radically remade Conservative environment which is increasingly intolerant, dogmatic and hard-right.

This means endless “culture wars” battling about the meaning of the British Empire, standing against diversity and “the woke”. Add to this “unvirtue signalling”, showing how tough and uncompromising they are and embodying “performative cruelty”, continually emphasising how they want to punish and lock up those they dislike. They think by coining terms such as “cancel culture” and “the blob” (a dismissive term for civil servants), they can get away with their record of misgovernment.

All of this is fed by a secret network of right-wing think tanks based in Tufton Street, London – the Institute of Economic Affairs, Taxpayers’ Alliance, Centre for Policy Studies, Global Warning Policy Foundation. These groups were the intellectual ballast, if that does not sound like an oxymoron, for what became Trussonomics.

The National: The journalists are being honoured for their interviews with Liz Truss (Jonathan Brady/PA)

That incredible attempt by Truss (above) to remake tax, spending and the state blew up one year ago because she and Kwasi Kwarteng tried to do too much too fast with no buy-in from any key stakeholders. But regrets there are none from Truss. She resurfaced last week, serenading her 49-day premiership as if she were a misunderstood Machiavelli.

The takeaway from Truss is that her intervention was not just about the past but the future of the Tories if they go into opposition. The forces of “One-Nation” Conservatism no longer hold many adherents in the party and are not going to be re-ignited by electoral defeat.

More likely a Tory Party in opposition will go further into the populist bunker. For example, it would argue for tearing up all sorts of international obligations such as withdrawing from the European Court of Human Rights, putting the UK in the same camp as Belarus and Russia.

It would no doubt advocate diluting public service broadcasting regulations to allow a market free for all as happened in the US when Reagan abolished the TV “fairness doctrine” in 1987, aiding the rise of Murdoch’s Fox News which assisted Trump and the far-right.

The Tories are not coming back to be the force they were under Churchill, Macmillan and Ted Heath. Then there were problems with their politics but at least they had some understanding of the need for a social contract across the classes, public services, and even for a Tory Party which did not just speak for and represent England and narrow English nationalism.

This is the UK we live in. The only way to counteract this is to ensure the Tories have a massive electoral reverse next year. One which reduces them to a small rump of MPs and wakens them up to the limits of their politics of misusing government, state and public office embracing an atavistic, authoritarian, nationalist politics of a Faragist hue.

These are the stakes we are playing with. A right-wing politics playing fast and loose with democratic norms, being nasty and vengeful, and increasingly getting plaudits from Trump and other authoritarians. Labour, the LibDems, SNP and others had better wake up to the challenge and consequences for Scotland and the UK.