Spare a thought for Rishi Sunak. He is busy trying to convince us that he is running a fresh, new government full of sensible competent people making well-balanced judgements. Which is a bit difficult to do when your party has been in power since 2010, the economy is in a mess, and you’ve appointed a whole series of cabinet colleagues who are driven by seriously daft far-right theories.
Anything but a safe pair of hands
It isn’t easy persuading people that you are a safe pair of hands when mortgages are going through the roof, food price inflation is running at 17.5%, and essential public services like trains and hospitals can’t be relied on.
The spin doctors are working hard to get the public onside with the idea that all the chaos, incompetence, lies, and rule breaking of the past has been put behind us. Unfortunately, the man in charge of the country was part of the team that inflicted much of that chaos, and his vision of how to emerge from it is seriously flawed.
For years Sunak has consistently championed ideas that have damaged our country. He was one of the Brexiters who told us that a wonderful future awaited us if we gave up unfettered access to our biggest trading market and opened ourselves up to global trade. Signing a messy compromise deal on Northern Ireland that kicks problems he helped to cause a little further down the road does not mean that he has made Brexit a success. It means he has found a way to limit a small part of the damage.
Austerity, for everyone but the rich
He is an enthusiast for austerity, so long as it is inflicted on public service workers. When it comes to investment bankers, however, his government has given a massive tax cut, and removed several of the controls that were put in place to prevent another 2008 crash, just before the 2023 banking panic began.
Within weeks of taking office, he took decisions that triggered the biggest round of strikes that the country has experienced for decades. It was his government that stubbornly refused to talk to public servants about pay rises for weeks, before being forced to face the reality that a bit of compromise is always necessary.
Failing on climate
When it comes to the environment, he had a dreadful track record as chancellor. In budget after budget he failed to take measures to tackle the climate emergency, and cut taxes or increased subsidies for fossil fuels. He left Britain with a network of poorly insulated homes, schools, and hospitals, and when energy bills for those leaky, inefficient buildings started to rise, he refused to take any remotely effective action against the companies that put prices up rapidly and down very slowly. He let them exploit the opportunity to profit at the expense of the rest of us and decided to subsidise the wholesale price of energy.
That meant that people like himself, with multiple mansions and huge bills for heating new private swimming pools, got very large subsidies from the government. Pensioners who struggled to afford to put on the heating, and used very little power, got a tiny amount of support.
In other words, he is handing out subsidies to the very wealthy to be able to pump out CO2 and leaving the poor, hungry and cold with very little support. He is effectively presiding over the single most regressive tax or subsidy in UK history.
Sunak’s management of immigration illustrates similar levels of incompetence and obsession with the wishes of the extremists in his own party, rather than the needs of the country. Britain currently has a labour shortage which is helping to drive up prices. Sunak’s migration strategy has been to force EU fruit and vegetable pickers to go home, putting up the price of food. Further, by making it harder for EU lorry drivers to come here, Sunak is contributing to the gaps on supermarket shelves.
Imagine being part of a government that has created over a year’s delay in making a decision over whether someone can stay here and then banned them from working whilst their case is decided, at a cost Sunak himself says is £5.5mn a day. Then imagine putting someone in charge of migration policy who thinks these problems can be solved by shipping off new arrivals to Rwanda regardless of cost, practicality, or legal obligations.
The heir to Truss and Johnson
When it comes to respect for the law, it should not be forgotten that Sunak also was fined for breaching Covid rules. He just did it a little less frequently and a little less flamboyantly than the prime minister he supported.
It simply isn’t possible for Sunak to form a government that entirely consists of sensible business people doing what is best for the country, because many of the members of his own party enthusiastically voted for Liz Truss and still believe in her reckless ideas that did so much damage to ordinary people’s lives. Indeed, Sunak has gone out of his way to say that Truss had the right ideas and that his main concern was the way she implemented those ideas.
This is a man who thinks that the way to achieve economic success in Britain is to create ‘freeports’ where standards are lowered. Instead of following a German model of high investment, he believes in deregulation; despite all the lessons of the Grenfell fire. He is an enthusiast for setting markets free; to land us with a repeat of the 2008 crash. He prefers to turn Britain into a haven for dodgy money than to let us trade on a level playing field with the rest of Europe and enjoy visa free travel.
Send a message in May
That approach isn’t one of quiet competence, it amounts to quiet incompetence. In May voters will have their chance to express their opinion in local elections on how he and his colleagues have been doing. Let us hope that they take it.
Provided, of course, that they are allowed to cast their vote. Because many young people will be effectively disbarred from voting as a result of cynically biased voter id rules passed by this Conservative government. Another very strange thing for a sensible moderate to do.