Top Tories fear the party is running out of time to convince the country it deserves another term in office.
Mr Sunak, below, is being urged to set out an agenda that “goes where Labour cannot go”. Veterans fear if he fails to show why they should stay in power, they are “finished”.
The Prime Minister needs to deliver a conference speech next month that excites his party and the nation, and avoid humiliation in by-elections in seats formerly held by Nadine Dorries and Chris Pincher.
Mr Sunak must then put the finishing touches to the King’s Speech, due on November 7, which will set out his Government’s top priorities before the next election.
A fortnight later, the Autumn Statement must boost confidence in the markets and in households that the economy is on the up.
The 43-year-old PM also faces the challenge of nailing down the long-awaited trade deal with India and ensuring that Tory fortunes do not take further blows as a result of gaffes and scandals.
The most recent WeThink polling shows that Labour continues to hold a nearly 20-point lead. Among people who are likely to vote, 43 per cent say they plan to vote Labour, with just 24 percent expecting to back Mr Sunak’s party.
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Prominent Tories are calling for the PM to give people a clear “narrative” about his plans for the country. A senior backbencher said: “When you are consistently 20 points behind – as we have been for months – it’s time to stop burying your head in the sand.
What the party is crying out for is a powerful, consistent narrative; a story on why we deserve to be re-elected. That’s what the PM and Cabinet must come up with or we’re finished.”
A former cabinet minister urged Mr Sunak to stage a “bold” reshuffle and govern with greater verve, saying: “Rishi needs to have courage. He is far too cautious and is surrounded by ‘yes’ men.”
Another ex-cabinet minister stressed the importance of this autumn for the Government’s future, saying: “It’s definitely make-or-break because we’re running out of time.”
Former defence secretary Liam Fox urged the PM to follow the example of Margaret Thatcher in 1987, saying she brought her cabinet together and made each of them say what it is about their department that makes it “worth voting Conservative next time”.
He said: “Rishi needs a similar exercise. We need to set out an agenda that goes where Labour cannot go. An agenda that appeals to voters who are naturally ours.
I don’t believe for a minute we cannot win the next election. But we cannot win it without some courage.” He argues the Chancellor needs to set out “why only the Tory Party can be trusted for small business”.
Mr Sunak received a boost last week when it was announced that the UK would rejoin the EU’s Horizon scheme, with British scientists able to bid for a share of the £81billion funding pot.
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Damian Green, a leading One Nation Conservative who served as Theresa May’s de facto deputy PM, said: “The Government needs to build on successes like the Horizon announcement by showing it can solve problems, but also give a practical vision of what a Conservative government would be aiming at.
“We need to give people hope that the tough decisions of recent years will bear fruit in a more prosperous country that spreads opportunity to everyone.”
Election expert and Tory peer Robert Hayward said Horizon is a “seriously important” development and also sounded a note of optimism about the by-election due on October 19 in Mid-Bedfordshire, the seat until recently held by Boris Johnson-ally Ms Dorries.
Praising Tory candidate Festus Akinbusoye, he said: “Festus is the best campaigning Conservative by-election candidate I’ve ever worked with. He is just a natural.”
Dame Andrea Jenkyns, who ousted Labour’s Ed Balls from Morley and Outwood in 2015, said this is a “critical time for the Government” and that stopping small boats crossing the Channel is a “top priority”.
She said that in the coming months “effective communication, prudent policy implementation and a clear focus on core values are essential”.
Fellow Tory MP Craig Mackinlay is upbeat about winning a historic fifth term. He said: “This autumn gives an opportunity for a reset of seeming policy drift and to show clear differences between us and Labour.”
He suggested the Autumn Statement could include the “bold move of scrapping hated inheritance tax”, adding: “A reset of the more costly, impractical and unpopular parts of the net-zero pathway, including a promise to motorists to stop turning the screw on their freedoms, would be an obvious path to take.”
His colleague Daniel Kawczynski is excited about opportunities for the country. “For the first time in my lifetime we are at liberty to create a free-trading bloc across the Commonwealth, so the negotiations with India will be critical,” he said.
He signalled he believes Mr Sunak may not have to leave No10 after the General Election. “Rishi is exceeding my expectations as a leader and he is bringing a quiet, calm competence back to Britain,” he said “The next election is all to play for.”
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