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Can middle class woes annihilate the Tories?  

Welcome to Wednesday’s Early Edition from i.

It is fair to say that Rishi Sunak is having a difficult time. This Thursday, his party faces a string of potentially humiliating by-elections, at a time when the PM’s poll ratings are at an all-time low. A survey by YouGov shows two thirds of Britons hold an unfavourable view of Mr Sunak, with his net favourability plummeting to minus 40, the lowest level since he took office. The Prime Minister is also under pressure to reorganise his top team, after Defence Secretary Ben Wallace announced he would resign under the next cabinet reshuffle. Today, Rishi Sunak will also come under renewed scrutiny over his pledge to halve inflation by the end of the year. Inflation figures are due out early this morning, and if last month’s are anything to go by, the chances are they will not have shifted enough in the right direction. If that’s the case, more painful interest rate rises could be on the cards. The cost-of-living crisis is causing misery for everyone, but how might it translate to the ballot box this week? We’ll take a look after the headlines.

Today’s news, and why it matters

Tony Blair was urged while prime minister to lend British support to Ukraine’s desire to move closer to Europe amid warnings that the West had “too rosy” a view of Vladimir Putin and should court Kyiv as a bulwark against “Russian imperialism”. In a series of highly prescient diplomatic pleadings and foreign policy briefings, Mr Blair and his senior colleagues were told that Ukrainians felt “rubbished” by Britain and its allies.

The bitter rivalry that accompanied the process of choosing the Poet Laureate is laid bare in Downing Street papers which reveal how eminent literary figures were trashed by their peers as pornographers, pacifists or simply “too old”. The toxic in-fighting for one of the oldest and most freighted positions in the world of English literature is revealed in documents which pitched names such as Sir John Betjeman, WH Auden and Philip Larkin against one another.

The Lib Dems will need to rely on tactical voting from constituents who want to defeat the Tories in Thursday’s by-election in Somerton and Frome, party insiders have told i. The party, which is hoping for its fourth by-election victory against the Conservatives in just over two years, needs to overturn a Tory majority of 19,213 to take the seat.

GB News presenter Dan Wootton has spoken out to deny allegations about his conduct. Wootton, an ex-showbiz journalist who was formerly executive editor of The Sun newspaper, claimed that the allegations, published in Byline Times on Monday, were part of a “campaign to destroy my life”.

Flagship measures to crack down on Channel asylum crossings will not become fully operational until ministers can get court approval for the controversial Rwanda deportation deal, Downing Street has admitted. The PM’s official spokesman said the laws are an “important part of our work to stop the boats” but admitted “it needs to be paired with the Rwanda partnership which is being challenged in the courts”.

Three key factors ahead of the polls this week:

Why ‘instinctive Tories feeling poor’ is a problem: Rising mortgages and household bills have hit most people across the country hard. And while the plight of Waitrose shoppers may not be high on the list when it comes to sympathy votes, they are likely to be of concern to those in the Conservative Party – or at least they should be. “There are now lots of voters who should be instinctive Tories who feel very poor in a way they haven’t before. And instinctive Tories feeling poor is very bad news for the Conservatives,” Ed Dorrell, partner at political strategy firm Public First, told i. He said that some members had been forced to cancel their summer holiday abroad and highlighted one member taking part in the focus group, who admitted: “I now head to Aldi for bargains. The days of Waitrose are long gone.” Mr Dorrell believes this could have disastrous consequences for the government. “If the Tories are not careful, they’re looking at electoral annihilation,” he wrote recently. Read the full story here.

What do people on the ground say? In Somerset and Frome, Lib Dem candidate Sarah Dyke – the bookies’ favourite to win – says people are “fed up with the wait for a GP appointment, a dentist, with the cost-of-living crisis, the state of the NHS and all public services. They are fed-up with 13 years of this Government and they are coming back to the Liberal Democrats.” However Faye Purbrick, the Tory candidate, believes “we’ve been hit by two huge events in Covid and the war in Ukraine” and that “if we all work together we will get through this”. Read the full story here. Over in Selby, apathy may be the biggest barrier to the parties battling it out this week, but there is still a sense something needs to change, reports Jordan Tyldesley. “They all piss in the same pot. Everything in this country is broken and no-one will do anything about it,” one disillusioned resident says. “Nevertheless, there is a feeling that something needs to change and for now, voting Labour is their only opportunity to express that.” Read the full story here.

What would three losses mean for the Tories at the next general election? Keiran Pedley, Director of Politics at Ipsos, says whatever happens at the by-elections this week should be taken with a grain of salt when predicting the outcome of a general election. He writes: “Turnout is usually much lower than at general elections. Voters understand the stakes are different and the local context will vary, depending on which seats are up.” Instead, he says, “the performance of the economy, the cost of living, immigration and state of public services are all likely to be more important factors over the next year”. However, he suggests Selby and Ainsty will be the real litmus test, and if Labour pulls it off “we are looking at a pickup similar to those Tony Blair’s Labour Party produced before their 1997 landslide win”. Read the full story here.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is facing a challenging run up to a general election in 2024 (Henry Nicholls/Pool via AP)

Around the world

The heatwave engulfing southern Europe is set to intensify this week, with wildfires continuing to blaze across the continent and temperatures in Sardinia forecast to hit 47°C or even 48°C today. Conditions will remain above 40°C for days and overnight temperatures are expected to surge, leading to an increased risk of heart attacks and deaths, the World Meteorological Organisation said.

A US soldier has been detained in North Korea after crossing the nation’s heavily-fortified border with South Korea without authorisation. The soldier, named as Private 2nd Class Travis King, is thought to have absconded from an airport before joining a border tour.

Traffic resumed on Crimea Bridge on Tuesday as the Russian authorities sought to reassure tourists following a marine drone strike that killed two holidaymakers and left their teenage daughter injured. Crimea’s tourism minister Vadym Volchenko urged visitors not to leave, while tour operators offered free hotel rooms to visitors who faced disruption as a result of the deadly blast.

Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood stirred controversy with a video message urging re-engagement with the Taliban, but there is some support for his position among humanitarian groups. Sources in the aid industry said they routinely dealt with the regime in the course of providing services and would welcome engagement from foreign governments.

Women with terminal cancer could benefit from taking magic mushrooms to help them cope with their diagnosis, doctors say. A research team at the University of Texas said existing options — such as therapy or antidepressants — take too long to work and are often not a realistic option for patients who are very sick with cancer.

Watch out for…

Donald Trump – who says he has received a letter from special counsel Jack Smith identifying him as a ‘target’ in the investigation into the 6 January Capitol riots in 2021. The former president says he now expects to be indicted. 

Thoughts for the day

Rishi Sunak is quite right about ‘Mickey Mouse’ degrees – if only he had a solution. More successful economies than ours are better able to provide young people with technical skills, writes Michael Day.

Are you a cheater if you have an AI girlfriend? Absolutely. The bot has no intentions of its own, it has not set out to steal your boyfriend, but it just might, argues Phoebe Arslanagić-Wakefield.

Jane Birkin was the original ‘cool girl’ – it’s a concept I hate. You have no worry or shame, that’s too much of a gamble for ordinary women, says Esther Walker.

British singer and actress Jane Birkin in Paris in 1971 (Photo: Steve Wood/Evening Standard/Getty)

Culture Break

Rosie Jones: Backlash from my documentary Am I A R*tard? has hit harder coming from disabled people. “Criticism from your own community hits harder. I don’t like that something I’ve made and something I‘m so proud of is creating such upset, because that was not my intention,” she tells Patrick Strudwick.

“I am a target,” Rosie Jones says. “I’ve been mugged because of how I walk. I’ve had people shouting at me in the street every week.” (Photo: Channel 4)

The Big Read

Qatar migrant workers still face exploitation and harassment despite World Cup promises. Labourers in Qatar tell i that pay is still withheld, workers are arbitrarily deported and cannot always leave jobs.

Qatar’s record on workers rights has long been criticised by unions and human rights groups. (Photo: i)


Jacqui Oatley: ‘Being Match of the Day’s first female commentator was unpleasant and crazy’. On the eve of the World Cup, the pioneering TV commentator reflects on lazy stereotypes, making history at the BBC and the ‘exponential’ growth of the women’s game.

Oatley will be commentating on the Women’s World Cup for US television (Photo: Fox Sports)

Something to brighten your day

What if the answer to our chronic stress, anxiety and lack of sleep lies simply in the way we inhale and exhale air from our lungs, asks Rosie Fitzmaurice. Here, she tries a £159 device that says it’ll fix your breathing and your mental health.

Rosie Fitzmaurice tried out the Moonbird breathing device (Photo: Supplied)

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