After the dishonesty of Boris Johnson and the short-lived holiday from reality under Liz Truss, the United Kingdom has its third Prime Minister of the year. Political Editor Nick Powell writes that Rishi Sunak will be a more predictable and reliable leader as he seeks to return his country to stability and his party to sanity.
The British Conservative Party might be about to recover its sanity, it has started by recovering its ruthlessness. By the party, I mean primarily its members of parliament. They were saved from their misplaced collective loyalty to Boris Johnson by ministers resigning when they could take his serial dishonesty no more.
Chief among them, Ridhi Sunak, who resigned as Chancellor but failed to become Prime Minister at the first attempt. Those MPs let party members have the option of Liz Truss, giving the false impression that she was a viable choice -and they took it. Her disastrous short-lived premiership very nearly brought the United Kingdom to economic meltdown.
In the process, she destroyed the Conservative party’s credibility with the voters. It would be a political miracle if Rishi Sunak can win the next election in two years’ time. This time MPs took no chances when they installed him unopposed as leader, ruthlessly blocking any way back for Boris Johnson.
Johnson’s lies and Truss’s arrogance gave Sunak’s pledge to serve “with integrity and humility” added force. He also acknowledged the “profound economic challenge” facing the United Kingdom. Achieving economic growth won’t be easy at a time of high inflation and rising interest rates.
He has long supported the UK leaving the the European Union, since before being pro-Brexit became compulsory in the Conservative party. But that need not stop him resetting relations with the EU, in fact it gives him the necessary political cover to do so. On the day Rishi Sunak learned that he would become Prime Minister, he probably did not even notice that the EU confirmed it would simplify the customs requirements for imports into the single market but he’ll want British business to take full advantage.
That won’t happen if the dispute over the Northern Ireland protocol leads to trade sanctions. We can expect the rhetoric from the British government to continue to cool, with real hope that agreement can be reached. Pragmatism, doing what works, is coming back into fashion at the top of the Conservative party.
Rishi Sunak is a remarkable man in many ways. At 42, he becomes Britain’s youngest Prime Minister in over a century. He is also almost certainly the richest, though his personal fortune is dwarfed by his wife’s vast wealth. He is the first Prime Minister from an ethnic minority, being a British Asian of Indian heritage and a practicing Hindu.
He will ignore the calls for an early election, even if two changes of Prime Minister since the 2019 vote strengthen the arguments for one. Two years are long enough for his time in office to make a real difference, at home and abroad. Even if he cannot win an election when the time comes, he could prove to be a very consequential occupant of 10 Downing Street -and in a more positive way than his recent predecessors.