Democratic politics is about choice – and churn. The people make their choice and our elected tribunes respond in kind. If rejected, they stand down. Hence churn.

If churn is absent, if there is no losers’ consent, if politicians need not fear the verdict of the people, then there is no democracy. Witness Russia and Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.

So change is a welcome element. Except, of course, for those on the receiving end. It can be tough to demit office, perhaps at the whim of the electorate. Frequently, politicians pre-empt that whim.

They anticipate their inevitable demise and depart at a time of their choosing. Only this week, Mark Drakeford delivered an emotional farewell as he stood down from the post of Welsh First Minister, to be replaced by Vaughan Gething.

In Dublin, Leo Varadkar provided a shock to the political system by stepping aside as Taoiseach. He attributed his choice to a combination of political and personal motives.

The Herald: Ben WallaceBen Wallace (Image: free)

Our leaders are permanently assailed by just such a potent mix. Some choose to go. Others adhere to office even when there are voices calling upon them to consider their position. Westminster enters recess next week. And so the Prime Minister has a period of relative calm in which to consider the comments made by his opponents, of varying hues.

Perhaps he will recall the advice tendered by one of his illustrious predecessors, Winston Churchill, who noted that MPs on the benches across from you are the Opposition. Your enemies sit behind you.

Rishi Sunak does not lack such enemies, for all that his fellow Tory MPs banged their desks in approbation at this week’s meeting of the backbench 1922 Committee. One or two have called upon him to quit. Others back him but seem unable to shake off the gloom which shrouds their party’s electoral prospects.

The former Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, previously an MSP, suggested it was “too late” to oust Mr Sunak. Adopting a martial metaphor, as befits a former Scots Guards officer, he added that a time comes in politics when “you stand up and you march towards the sound of the guns and you get on with it.”

Not, I am sure you will agree, a particularly effusive endorsement of the PM.

All this week, at Westminster, there has been speculation of a plot to prise the PM from Downing Street and hand the baton to another Tory MP. Perhaps Penny Mordaunt. Or Kemi Badenoch. Or A.N. Other.

Myself, I think there is much less to this than meets the eye. No structured scheming. No IT kit being installed in a stand-by campaign HQ. Rather, I think many Tory MPs are simply scared. Fretful, frankly, that they will lose their own seats. Such a prospect tends to concentrate minds somewhat. As it should. It is the very core of democracy – that incumbents should shiver at the impending wrath of the electorate.

I think that in this atmosphere of anxiety it is understandable that there will be questions aimed at the leader. Tension can result in curious calculations. From some Tory quarters, one hears the cry: Bring back Boris. Not as PM, you understand, but to add vigour to the Conservative campaign.

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Really? Seriously? The PM who brought us Partygate? Maybe he could do a double act with Liz Truss. A dialogue on economic stability and trust.

You see, the problem for Rishi Sunak arises partly from those predecessors – and from his own failure to repair the damage they caused to the Conservative Party’s reputation. This week, the PM detected a bounce back in the economy because inflation had fallen to 3.4% from its peak of eleven.

Certainly, this is welcome news – and one understands his eagerness. But people still feel disquieted. There is probably not enough time for sufficient reassurance to be offered, even though the PM says his “working assumption” is an election later in the year, rather than Spring.

Inevitably, his eagerness brought Opposition contumely. Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer said that half Mr Sunak’s Cabinet were lining up to replace him. For the SNP, Stephen Flynn essayed satire, suggesting that the PM might indeed be replaced – but by one of the “born again Thatcherites” on the Labour front bench. This in reference to a speech by the Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves who compared the challenge currently facing the UK to the quandary tackled by Margaret Thatcher in 1979.

To be fair, Ms Reeves did not go much beyond that. No adoption of Thatcherite ideology. It still infuriated the Left in her party.

Mention Margaret Thatcher – and one inevitably recalls that she was ousted by internal opposition. For many Tories, she was an object of adoration. And yet she was ousted. Think of other Tory leaders. The succession of hopefuls who contested the Blair/Brown axis – and foundered. Or John Major who could never subdue the emotive arguments within his party over Europe. Exasperated, he quit the leadership and challenged his critics to “put up or shut up”. John Redwood stood, John Major won. The critics put up – but did they shut up? Friends, they did not.

The Herald: Michael FootMichael Foot (Image: free)

Consider other leaders. Such as Michael Foot, who led Labour in the 1983 General Election – with a manifesto characterised as “the longest suicide note in history”.

I attended the news conference during that election when Jim Mortimer, the party’s General Secretary, volunteered the information that Labour’s campaign committee had “unanimously” agreed that Michael Foot was the leader. This, mind you, mid-contest.

It was a calamitous own goal, an acknowledgement of internal tension. Rishi Sunak is now confronting such stress, although markedly less than that endured by some other leaders.

Much may change, of course. It may be the case that an economic corner has been turned, as the PM suggested this week. Voters may eventually feel less apprehensive. However, the alternative scenario still seems more likely at this stage. That discontent with the Conservatives persists, while Labour offers “change”, the SNP offers independence, and Reform UK offers sanctuary to unhappy Tories. That a defeated Conservative Party then has to regroup – reformulating policy, strategy and ideology.

A political battle for which this week has been but a rehearsal.