RISHI Sunak will find it “hard to shift” the Tory association with sleaze and scandal which has echoes of the downfall of the party in the 1990s, experts have said.

As the Prime Minister reached 100 days in office last week, the SNP said he had been dogged by a “festering swamp of sleaze” – which includes the sacking of former party chair ­Nadhim Zahawi over breaches of the ministerial code.

There is also mounting concern over allegations of bullying against Dominic Raab, with former Tory ­Party chairman Sir Jake Berry ­yesterday calling for the deputy prime minister to be suspended while an ­investigation takes place.

With the chaos of Boris ­Johnson and Liz Truss’s short-lived ­premiership still lingering, experts say the events swirling around Sunak are “more than a little reminiscent” of the sleaze that characterised John Major’s time in Downing Street between 1992 and 1997.

The National: Critics have linked the current climate to the sleaze which characterised John Major's time as PMCritics have linked the current climate to the sleaze which characterised John Major's time as PM (Image: NQ)

However while Labour look set to benefit from the Tory chaos, Sir Keir Starmer will also face “much harder terrain” to get into Number 10 than Tony Blair did with his ­landslide ­General Election in 1997, it has been predicted.

Dr Sam Power, senior lecturer in politics at the University of Sussex, said Sunak had become his own ­“hostage to fortune” by pledging to bring honesty and integrity back to his government.

“That’s all very well and good, but the problem is it’s a large party – and any party that you lead, there will be problems within that party,” he said.

“There will be problems that you have to be have to snuff out and there will be tough decisions that you have to make about firing or ­otherwise ­politicians – some of whom you need because they’re because they’re broadly helpful to you or perhaps their allies.”

He added: “This promise that he made on the Downing Street steps is just going to be used as a stick to beat him with continuously.

“He can bring back integrity, honesty and accountability to politics, but there will always be problems and whenever those problems arise, this phrase will come up again and again.”

Power said it was reminiscent of Major’s “back to basics” campaign, which became associated with causes such as the traditional family and led to ridicule and accusations of hypocrisy after a series of Tory scandals.

“It actually became this hostage to fortune for [Major’s] government in the same way that I suspect this integrity, accountability and honesty in politics will be for Rishi Sunak,” he said.

“Because it’s just impossible for him to deliver such that it just opens the door to the these attacks again and again.”

Power said while a party or ­government can get away with the odd scandal or two, it would face ­serious problems when it became seen as pattern of behaviour.

And while Sunak’s pledge to bring back integrity, accountability and honesty to politics can work as a “sticking plaster”, the emergence of each new scandal brings back the ­association with sleaze.

The National: Former Tory minister David Mellor was also hit by scandal during his time as an MPFormer Tory minister David Mellor was also hit by scandal during his time as an MP (Image: NQ)

“When that comes back, it’s ­actually pretty impossible to shift ­because all you need is another ­scandal, all you need is another problem to appear – and this is politics so another ­problem will appear, another issue will arise,” he said.

“Such that it’s really hard to see how this government – like the 1992-1997 Conservative government – is able to shift this association with sleaze, with scandal and with ­political impropriety.”

Power pointed to polling which ­indicates that Sunak is ­underperforming when compared to Major’s early years in government – but also said Starmer was underperforming ­compared to Tony Blair.

“It could be that things get significantly worse for the Conservative Party such that a 1997 style [Labour] landslide even without Scotland and even with the existing [Conservative] majority is possible,” he said.

“But the terrain is much harder for the for the Labour Party.

“That’s the big difference between 1990s and the present day: that electoral terrain, the party system and the kind of majority the Labour ­Party have got to overturn – it is much ­harder and with a less popular leader.”

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Dr Martin Farr, senior lecturer in contemporary British history at Newcastle University, said concerns linked to the government now were “materially and culturally” more ­serious than some of the sex scandals which emerged during the 1990s.

“Of course it is hard to imagine now, but ’92 and ’97 were pre-internet age and pre-social media,” he said.

“John Major became absolutely obsessed with the Evening Standard and the front pages in the morning. It is a totally different situation now.

“There were also financial ­scandals, but [Major] had the back to basics campaign which was really about arithmetic and Victorian values in that sense, but was interpreted as ­being moralistic.

“And then when all these ­ministers have their trousers round their ­ ankles suddenly, it appears ­ hypocritical and hypocrisy never plays well with the public.”

Farr said one of the bold steps taken by Major was his resignation in 1995 which triggered a leadership contest in a bid to force his party to “put up or shut up”.

But while he won it did not work because a “sea change” in politics was already underway for a Tory ­government which had been in power for nearly two decades.

“There is a sea change in the sense of a tipping point almost, when ­people start to realise yes it has been lost now, they have been in power too long, nothing’s working, the Brexit people voted for hasn’t materialised,” he said.

“So that point has been reached and you get now time for change.”

Farr said the big question the ­parties were asking themselves was whether today’s political scandals would lead to another victory for the Tories similar to 1992 – or a Labour victory as happened in 1997.

“As ever there are some things which are similar, some things which are different and it obvious the Tories hope it’s the former and Labour hope it is the latter,” he said.

“Of course it could equally be neither and it could be something in the middle – a small working majority.”