Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak. Photo: Rory Arnold / Number 10 Downing St / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. Liz Truss. Photo: Simon Dawson / Number 10 Downing Street / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, license linked below article

Terina Hine explains why Rishi Sunak’s coronation will only make the calls for a general election louder and angrier

In an affront to democracy, Rishi Sunak is our new Prime Minister, the third Tory PM in just fifty days. It is a coronation organised by the Tory Party king makers in a desperate, last-ditch attempt to keep themselves in power. Sunak has neither a mandate nor a plan.

After his complete silence over the past week, Sunak’s programme for government remains one of the party’s best kept secrets, perhaps a moot point given no one got to vote for it anyway. But never mind, Sunak is a stable, sensible grown-up, just what the doctors ordered at Conservative Party HQ.

In his first speech as prime minister, Sunak ruled out an early election and warned there would be ‘difficult decisions to come’ to deal with the crisis engulfing the country. The country is crying out for stability not accountability, we are told, and now is not the time for democracy.

Sunak was a popular politician once, back in the darkest days of Covid, but it was a brief moment in history and unlikely to be repeated. The billions spent on furlough saved countless lives and a complete economic collapse. It is hard to imagine any chancellor doing differently, indeed many countries did the same. This was Sunak’s moment. But it was only a moment, beyond furlough his record is less than appealing.

‘Eat out to help out’ was a disaster. He was fined for breaking lockdown laws and kept schtum about the No.10 party season. He was against the Autumn 2020 lockdown, and at his behest Professors Heneghan and Gupta, of the ‘let it rip’ brigade, were invited to Downing Street. He seemed unable to link the health impact and prevalence of Covid with the wider economy.

He failed when it came to dealing with the cost-of-living crisis in spring 2022 with his mismanaged government loan scheme, he said it was ‘right’ to cut the uplift to universal credit and to raise taxes for workers, while at the same time he handed billions in tax cuts to the wealthy. He is committed to the Rwanda refugee policy, and holding a hard line on immigration, and has reappointed ultra-right-wing Suella Braverman as Home Secretary in his cabinet reshuffle.

Sunak resigned from Johnson’s cabinet for reasons of personal ambition. He supported the charlatan in No.10 when it was convenient to do so, and ceased to when it was no longer in his own interest. He showed no morals and no leadership.

His resignation letter emphasised differences in economic policy rather than integrity. Sunak wanted a low-tax high-growth economy which would only be delivered if ‘we are prepared to work hard, make sacrifices and take difficult decisions’, for which read drastic public-spending cuts. Johnson’s boosterism and Sunak’s sacrifices were incompatible.

The crisis will continue

The summer leadership campaign exposed Sunak as a political lightweight, reduced to mansplaining on live TV, exposing a level of arrogance and entitlement previously hidden. His promises included imposing charges for missed GP appointments, binning all EU legislation and acting tough on the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill in a failed attempt to appease the Brexit hard-liners. On the campaign trail, he admitted to taking money from deprived areas in order to give places like Tunbridge Wells ‘the funding they deserved’.

Sunak’s job is to clean up the mess left by Truss’s 45 days in office: to stabilise the markets and save the Tories from annihilation. The most difficult task will be to keep the parliamentary party united long enough to avoid a catastrophic general election. For more seasoned politicians, this would be a mammoth task, but Sunak has only been an MP for seven years and has never shown much of an instinct for political judgement.

The Tory party today is more fractious and divided than it was under Theresa May, but the anger inside parliament is a pale reflection of the anger felt outside. People have had enough. That the Tories are interested only in themselves is obvious: they have crashed the economy, made the cost-of-living crisis ten times worse, and reduced our public services to a perilous state, while no one outside the square mile of the City knows what a pay rise looks like.

Sunak’s coronation will not make the anger go away. Unembarrassed by his personal wealth, reported at over £730 million, his Green Card, or his £3,500 suits, Sunak is the richest MP in history, and a fully signed up member of the global elite. As tweeted by Aditya Chakrabortty, he is our first Goldman Sachs prime minister, and he is about to preside over the most severe cuts in public services and workers’ wages in decades. No wonder the calls for a general election are getting louder and angrier by the day.

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