"He can settle the economy but also UK politics"
As the UK’s first-ever British Asian Prime Minister, the appointment of Rishi Sunak brought much jubilation.
But as the historical celebration of his reign dies down, the job he has in front of him is huge and highly significant.
Whilst he was elected as the new head of the Conservatives, the state of the party he inherited is abysmal.
His predecessor, Liz Truss, made a series of rushed decisions that resulted in economic collapse and a tenure of just 44 days.
Some may argue that Sunak is in office because there was no other option. However, he will want to put the doubts to rest and try to resurrect public belief in the government.
Likewise, he’ll be avidly competing against the scrutiny of the Labour Party, which looks like the favourite to win the next general election.
But, how can Rishi Sunak succeed as Prime Minister? Well, there is a range of issues he needs to address, and urgently.
The cost of living crisis and energy prices are most likely at the top of this list.
Then comes his political display with the public and if he can get them back on his side after a string of government lies and corruption during Covid-19.
Although, Sunak’s financial knowledge and support systems he put into place during the pandemic work in his favour.
So, there is a foundation there to which he can strive but reaching that goal in such a hostile climate is difficult.
The first and most urgent problem that Sunak has to deal with is the economy.
Whilst he was the former chancellor of the Exchequer, trying to be that and the Prime Minister simultaneously is difficult.
With Brexit over the line, the UK no longer has the protection of EU support.
Therefore, trying to install some financial significance amongst leading nations will depend on allies and ‘kindness’ from other countries.
However, the focus should not be masking the UK’s economic standing, but instead on the cost of living that is burdening the public.
Although, in his inaugural speech as Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak admitted Truss had made grave mistakes with her policies and aimed to resolve them:
“I have been elected as leader of my party and your prime minister in part to fix them. And that work begins immediately.
“I will place economic stability and confidence at the heart of this government’s agenda.”
But, where does he even start when inflation is over 10% and the UK is heading into a massive recession?
Fuel prices are rising, grocery costs are increasing and people are worried about using their heating during the winter months.
Whilst the government’s energy price cap initiative aims to help out households, bills are expected to increase by 54%.
Some families are already feeling the anxiety of debating between turning their heater on or saving money for food and upcoming holidays like Christmas.
Again, as part of his inaugural speech, he stated that repairing the budget and prioritising inflation will be a first-order issue:
“The government I lead will not leave the next generation, your children and grandchildren with a debt to settle that we were too weak to pay ourselves.”
By doing this, even though it won’t halt rising prices overnight, it’ll show Sunak is taking charge and tackling urgent issues.
Not only to protect the public but show them that he’s leading the country correctly and morally. And, there are some schemes already underway to assist Britons.
On November 1, 2022, the ‘Cold Weather Payment scheme’ opens.
Running until March 31, 2023, this will grant £25 to people on low incomes or qualifying benefits for every seven-day period in which sub-zero temperatures occur.
Additionally, Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng’s disastrous 1.25% hike in national insurance was scrapped.
The government revealed this will help 28 million people save an extra £330 in the 2023/24 tax year.
Likewise, the second cost of living payment (£324) will roll out from November 8, 2022, as part of the £326 already shelled out in July 2022.
This is only eligible to certain households on benefits such as Universal Credit, Tax Credits and Pension Credit.
So, it shows Rishi Sunak is trying to reverse previous cabinet mistakes but whether he can improve on this remains in question.
There’s no denying that the previous cabinet members of the Tory governments have been questionable.
Although Boris Johnson made some clear decisions during the pandemic, he and his cabinet’s behaviour was concerning.
His Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, was caught having an affair whilst lockdown and social distancing rules were enforced.
Then, there were leaks that Johnson and fellow members of parliament were having parties whilst simultaneously disciplining the nation to “stay inside”.
His successor, Liz Truss, had an equally dismal time in office. Not only is she the shortest-serving British Prime Minister ever, but she was constantly doubted.
Although, this feeling was mutual between politicians and the public as her choices always seemed hesitant.
This self-reluctance led to her sacking her long-time friend and ally, Kwasi Kwarteng, who she attempted to use as a scapegoat for the failure of their proposed “mini-budget”.
This catalogue of personal and professional errors has amplified Sunak’s decision on who he puts in his cabinet.
It may seem unfair that he’s paying the price for his predecessor’s mistakes, but they are all part of the same party.
So, the public feels pessimistic about who Sunak will employ to assist his time in office. And, some of his first selections didn’t help his cause.
He re-appointed Suella Braverman and Gavin Williamson, both of whom served under Johnson and Truss.
Braverman is increasingly under fire for her views on immigration and trade deals.
For example, she was reluctant to a multi-billion pound trade deal with India because she feared it will encourage more migration to the UK.
Williamson, as former Education Secretary, has also had his fair share of controversy.
In 2020, due to his cancelling all A Level exams due to Covid 19, Williamson said exam results would be based on equal-moderated teacher assessments.
However, Ofqual appealed against this system and accused some teachers of submitting “implausibly high” predictions.
Williamson defended the algorithm and said it was the “fairest way” to produce grades, even though several Ofqual figures believed the method was politically unacceptable.
So, as journalist Jonathan Freedland noted for The Guardian in October 2022:
“In his bid for team-of-rivals unity, Sunak has forgone the opportunity for a fresh start and assembled a government packed with faces wearily familiar from the shaming days of both Johnson and Truss.”
Whether this cabinet will redeem itself for past mistakes remains to be seen.
With controversial views, the public is on edge about what Sunak and his government will enforce.
Likewise, with such a recent history of immoral decisions and behaviour, will Sunak’s time in office be any different?
For years, the state of the NHS and its staff have been under keen observation from the UK public.
After the incredibly brave and strong job the key workers did during the pandemic, they are still feeling the effects of that hostile period.
However, the problems related to the NHS date way before Covid 19 was here.
Successive Conservative governments have underinvested in the NHS since 2010 but the pandemic highlighted just how fragile the NHS is.
Being understaffed, underresourced and underpaid meant a lot of nurses and doctors reached a breaking point.
It’s also impacted the state of the NHS thereafter with the number of backlog appointments that workers are still catching up on.
Although Rishi Sunak said he would decrease this number and help minimise long wait times, there’s an argument that those from Sunak’s background overlook how vital the NHS is to the general public.
Given Sunak’s estimated £730 million wealth, people think that the Prime Minister is in a position of privilege where he can’t relate to the challenges of daily life.
The pay gap between health workers and politicians has also remained a much-talked-about topic.
Although Sunak promised a 2% increase for NHS nurses, many think this is nowhere near enough, taking into account how much politicians take home annually.
A few days after his appointment, the Prime Minister visited a hospital where a patient grilled him to pay staff more. The clip went viral and highlighted how important this issue is to fix.
Watch the exchange between Catherine Poole and Rishi Sunak:
For Sunak to succeed as Prime Minister, he needs to focus on different aspects of the NHS.
The backlog of appointments, wait times, salary and conditions for the staff are areas for him to improve.
But, the comparison between his wealth and the funding of the NHS is not easily forgotten.
Professor Devi Sridhar, chair of global public health at the University of Edinburgh sums this up perfectly:
“What I would love to see is a prime minister who stands up for public health, and for the health of all the people who live in Britain.
“Yet we now have the bizarre situation of a prime minister whose wife has claimed non-dom status to avoid paying tax in the UK on overseas income…
“…It was only when Akshata Murty’s non-dom status threatened to derail Sunak’s career that the couple agreed she would give it up.”
However, if Sunak can show some level of progress in certain departments, it will put him in good standing with the public.
Is A Labour Takeover Inevitable?
Sunak’s biggest opposition during his reign will be the Labour Party. The group have consistently pointed out the frustrations of the public and the wrongdoing of the Tories.
Many believe that due to such a collapse in leadership from previous governments, it’s inevitable that the public will vote for Labour in the next election.
Additionally, given that Sunak was the only ‘real’ candidate to replace Liz Truss, there are some backbenchers against him.
Some Tory figures blame him for bringing down Boris Johnson.
He and Sajid Javid both resigned within the space of one hour, although it was the latter who announced his departure first.
These individuals could join forces with opposition parties which would be a calamity for Sunak.
If Labour remains clearly ahead in the opinion polls, could Johnson’s allies plot a vote of confidence in Sunak?
However, if Sunak can contain Labour scrutiny and hold his own in parliament hearings, then it will allow him to gain more confidence among his peers.
Additionally, he will need to put in the work to back up his arguments.
There’s no doubt that Sunak will be full of promises and plans, but showing proactive examples is vital for the Conservative Party to remain in power.
If he manages to pull that off, then there’s no doubt that his time in office will be seen as a success.
There’s no denying that Rishi Sunak will need to take on a range of issues in order to succeed as Prime Minister.
However, what he will bring to the role, and what many expect him to flourish in is finance.
He was the Chief Secretary to the Treasury under Boris Johnson and replaced Sajid Javid as Chancellor of the Exchequer in the 2020 reshuffle.
Sunak brought in helpful initiatives during the Covid 19 crisis, including the Coronavirus Job Retention and Eat Out to Help Out schemes.
Whether it’s to do with the economy or government, Sunak’s vast knowledge and experience within finance will be vital to how he progresses in his role.
Although, to make a dent in the UK’s estimated £1.8 billion worth of debt is a monumental job.
However, Sunak showed he has a keen eye for markets and numbers when he opposed Truss’ unfunded tax cuts.
He was the one who alerted fellow politicians, saying this act would “spook” the financial markets.
Ultimately, it did and he was proved right so quickly, even though Truss called him a “doomster”. But, it’s this same assurance that Sunak will need to employ in his financial policies.
Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University, believes it’s in this area where Sunak can shine:
“He’s someone with a lot of global experience outside of politics and also dealing with global figures as chancellor.
“He is a fluent communicator and he knows what he is talking about when it comes to the economy.”
“So I think there is every chance he will be welcomed by the international community not only if he can settle the economy but also UK politics.”
In an ideal scenario, Sunak would bring economic and political stability.
But, that means balancing decisions to make the public happy without enraging the Conservatives, and vice versa.
There’s no denying that the Prime Minister has a tough road ahead. In such a fragile society, the economic and political structure of the UK is extremely delicate.
However, Rishi Sunak will need to gather all his skills and available assistance to bring ‘hope’ to his reign.
Hope that the cost of living will decrease, hope that energy bills won’t rise and hope that there will be a Conservative government that finally looks after the people.
Sunak and his cabinet will need to show a high level of transparency compared to their predecessors.
The Tories have begun a pattern of broken promises and hidden agendas that eventually come to the light. The last thing Sunak needs is to add to that.
Therefore, to succeed as Prime Minister, he must of course stay in line with his political party but also use methods that are entirely new and fresh.
As one of the youngest leaders in modern times, the UK public has some form of optimism he can do this.
However, whether Rishi Sunak can deal with such a plethora of problems and work through the daily criticism remains to be seen.