While Rishi Sunak's decision last week to rule out a May general election was no great surprise given the whispers coming out of Number 10, it did show up his lack of political skills.

His party is heading for an historically-bad election defeat, possibly getting a lower proportion of the vote than it did in 1997, whether the election is held in seven weeks or seven months.

The problem with Mr Sunak is that he doesn't understand politics. He more or less admitted as much in an interview with Robert Peston on ITN on Monday.

He told him: "I'm not interested in Westminster politics."

Well he damn well should be. He's Prime Minister! Politics should be at the heart of his job.

Mr Sunak has skills. His stewardship of the economy during the pandemic was widely admired. He understands economics - and I think he does have a grasp on what he thinks is necessary to create a prosperous country.

But like other Chancellors who have gone on to become Prime Minister - most notably Jim Callaghan and Gordon Brown - his economic skills are totally overshadowed by his lack of political nous.

He just doesn't get that it looks hypocritical to say you're accepting a political donation from someone widely perceived as making a racist comment because he's apologised (although he's never accepted his comments were racist) when you've  had a go at the opposition after they fired a candidate for an anti-Semitic comment even though he had made a full apology.

Mr Sunak doesn't see the irony of telling a motor industry conference that he understands the frustrations of motorists when he's flown to the conference venue by private helicopter!

Elections can be won and lost during a campaign - as we saw in 2015 and 2017 - but only if the parties are close at the start.

The 1997 election was lost by the Tories on Black Wednesday in September 1992 - Ken Clarke had actually done much to improve the economy by May 1997 but the economic failings of the early months of the parliament and the sleaze allegations that followed ensured a massive defeat.

The 2010 election was lost by Labour when savers started queuing outside Northern Rock branches when the banking sector started to implode in 2007. Again Gordon Brown and Alastair Darling did much to shore up the economy - but that (and the expenses scandal) was punished by the voters.

The Conservatives lost the 2024 election when the Partygate scandal emerged at the end of 2021 - and their defeat was confirmed when Liz Truss trashed the economy in September 2022. There is no way back from that.

But in putting off the election until the autumn, Mr Sunak is scuppering the chances of his party mounting a comeback in 2025's county council elections.

They will held only about six months after the general election - and the likelihood is that the incoming government will still be enjoying a honeymoon period then.

The only hope for the Tories will be that the daft proposal for a directly elected council leader will leave a Conservative at the head of the county with about 30% of the vote while Labour, The Greens and the Liberal Democrats could split the opposition vote across Suffolk.

In individual seats you may well have a clear opposition majority, able to form a rainbow coalition. But how would that work with a Conservative directly-elected council leader whose job it would be to form a cabinet?

The devolution plans on offer for a paltry £16m a year (that's fractionally over 2% of its £750m budget) are a recipe for disaster in the county - a fact that's clearly recognised by some administration councillors at Endeavour House as well as the opposition.

I can't help feeling that whatever comes of the consultation period just started by the county council, the final decision on whatever happens will ultimately be made by the new government - and no decision on devolution will come before the general election.


The opinions expressed in this column are the personal views of Paul Geater and do not necessarily reflect views held by this newspaper, its sister publications or its owner and publisher Newsquest Media Group Ltd.