Review of the Week: Rishi Sunak’s Political Identity Challenge

    The track continues the offensive of members of parliament ahead of the 1922 executive committee elections

    When Rishi Sunak was first elected MP for the safe seat of Richmond in 2015, the political landscape was in a very different state. The Tories were at their height; David Cameron had just been re-elected and the Brexit referendum was looming. The then prime minister was open about his plan to step down quietly at the end of his full second term.

    Of course, the overall story of the last six years of British politics is that things have not gone the way Cameron hoped or expected.

    Sunak backed an early Brexit, at a time when most of the younger Tory MPs hoping for government jobs were loyally defending the case for remaining in the EU. For Cameron, Sunak’s backing of the Leave campaign was an early signal that he was beginning to lose the argument among the Conservatives. According to reports at the time, Cameron said privately: “If we lost Rishi, we lost the future of the party.”

    Sunak was still too young to have a major impact on the campaign, but it was a strong statement of intent for the young MP. And the gamble would ultimately pay off handsomely.

    His first Cabinet job as Johnson’s chief finance secretary had much to do with his patronage of the Vote Leave gang. And in government, Sunak has become a seasoned preacher of the Johnsonian creed, even filling in for the prime minister in two nationally televised debates during the 2019 election campaign.

    This version of Sunak was ideologically uncomplicated: he was a small-state, tax-cutting Eurosceptic.

    However, Sunak was swept into 10 Downing Street on Monday after a wave of support from the center and left of his parliamentary party. Many of his most prominent cabinet allies, including Jeremy Hunt, Mel Stride, Robert Gerrick, Andrew Mitchell and Oliver Dowden, remained supporters and sat on the One Nation wing.

    Sunak even began to play into the tropes of this particular political clique. Since Monday, he has repeatedly said he will govern as a “compassionate Conservative”, adding in his first speech as prime minister: “You saw me during Covid, doing everything I could to protect people and businesses, with schemes like this , as a vacation. “.

    Perhaps too much has been made of Sunak’s pleasant, metropolitan demeanor — but that’s certainly the point. The Rishi brand has always been about showcasing a camera-friendly soft Cameroonian outer shell.

    The real Rishi Sunak will please stand up?

    That Sunak has skillfully navigated the shifting dynamics of Conservative factional politics over the past six years shows a considerable amount of tactical acumen. But our new Prime Minister’s unconventional journey to the top of a fat poll raises an important question: What is Rishi Sunak’s political identity?

    Today, Sunak is a Brexiteer who is viewed with suspicion by Brexiteers; the instinctive taxpayer tasked with repairing the fiscal trauma caused by the Trust’s tax cuts; and a “compassionate conservative” who is preparing a broad spending-cutting program.

    On Tuesday, as his newly appointed cabinet members emerged from 10 Downing Street, the ideological picture could not be clearer.

    For a politician who singled himself out as the antidote to Trussonomics, many were surprised to see Liz Truss’ two original picks for big government jobs remain in office.

    Similarly, the inclusion of Andrew Mitchell, a prominent advocate of cutting aid spending from 0.5 percent of GDP to 0.7 percent, is an interesting choice for the supposed fiscal hawk. As does keeping Ben Wallace, whose defense spending red line looks set to be crossed at some point.

    Reshuffles are dangerous for a newly minted prime minister, and in this case, Sunak appears to have chosen the path of least resistance. The decision to prioritize party rule over ideological purity will nonetheless have significant political ramifications down the line—and it once again leaves us in the dark about Sunak’s political stance.

    When it comes to the pressing issue of fracking, Sunak made a tactical decision to re-emphasize the importance of the 2019 election manifesto. This is in many ways a smart tactical choice; after a hedonistic summer spent flirting with Trussonomics, Sunak concluded that the party must rebuild a successful pre-pandemic electoral coalition.

    But the rhetorical reliance on the 2019 manifesto may end up creating more problems than it solves.

    On an ideological level, the 2019 election manifesto was not Sunak’s vision. The document’s emphasis on raising standards, “getting Brexit done” and environmental issues underlines it as a distinctly Johnsonian treatise. And Sunak’s political appeal is distinctly different from Johnson’s.

    Moreover, while in government, Sunak was noticeably more pro-economic than Johnson. In his July 2022 resignation letter, Sunak said their approach to economic policy was “fundamentally too different.” After all, it was the then chancellor who was behind the staggering increase in National Insurance contributions.

    Sunak later said that he is always more vocal in favor of limiting the budget Telegraph: “I just don’t think it’s right to run up bills on the credit of the country.” Now he is hardly to be seen in the Conservative party’s big-spending, dramatically-raising campaign manifesto.

    The decision to re-emphasize the 2019 election manifesto is primarily a communications strategy aimed at reconnecting the Parliamentary Party with the source of its electoral mandate – a rhetorical gambit aimed at derailing Labour’s calls for a general election. But this strategy has the unintended consequence of further muddying the waters around Sunak’s own political identity.

    Sunak was elected Conservative leader on a technocratic ticket – heavily bolstered by Truss’s dogma-laden premiership. But ruling as a technocrat, as well as as an ideologue, is not easy.

    Sunak’s entanglement with political direction may create ideological space for policy flexibility, but over time it may only serve to reinforce his image as the ultimate Torah Wet. The fact that in some corners of the Conservative Party the main technocrat is already treated with suspicion is understandable.

    However, now there is little left for the affected parliamentarians, except to make noise. But they can and will make noise. If Sunak’s manifesto-based communications strategy continues, it is probably only a matter of time before Johnson takes a back seat again to reclaim his political platform and condemn his former chancellor for sacrificing his vision on the altar of finance. restrictions.

    Be that as it may, Sunak will likely continue to oscillate between ideological viewpoints, echoing the values ​​of the One Nation Conservatives in some cases and throwing red meat at his party’s right wing in others.

    But when the general election rolls around, Sunak will have to do a better job of defining his own political identity. After all, fiscal technocracy may work in the Treasury, but on the doorstep pragmatism will not be a recipe for a Conservative revival.

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