On the one hand, he did well. After the 49-day debacle of Liz Truss’ premiership and the lurch from embarrassment to embarrassment that marked the final days of Boris Johnson’s disheveled government, he let the ship of state slide off the rocks. He is stable and competent; he can comb his own hair properly.
After arriving in North Yorkshire in 2015, he impressed voters by delving into the rural details, and he has done similar work nationally. He seems to have grasped the nuances of the Middle East and has performed commendably – imagine if Truss or Johnson had flown into the world’s most dangerous conflict zone on behalf of Britain, one wrong word could launch a thousand missiles.
On the other hand, the Conservatives are still 20 points behind in the polls and are losing by-elections with historically poor results. Some disillusioned voters are staying home; More are turning to the centre-left Labor Party, some – a few, but enough to make a difference – are leaning to the right, to Reform UK.
And Mr Sunak has been unable to offer a vision that would bring them back together. In his speech at the party conference he made complicated promises of A-level reform and a smoking ban – problems when the NHS waiting list exceeds 7.5 million, no one is asking for anymore.
Perhaps he doesn’t know his own vision – he was the Chancellor who brought taxes to the highest levels of modern times and yet claimed to be a tax cutter at heart, and now he is Prime Minister, he has not articulated how the transition will proceed.
Because he is a blank slate, all the sins of the Conservatives’ 13 years in office are written on him, and although he is a decent, smart guy, he has failed to repair the reputational damage caused by his predecessors.