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Political roadblocks It’s not going well for Britain’s new PM

Even a great statesman would need more than three months to make headway on such deep-rooted social ills.

Political roadblocks It’s not going well for Britain’s new PM
Rishi Sunak, Britain?s prime minister

LONDON: Rishi Sunak, Britain’s prime minister, has a plan for the new year. In a speech in early January, he set out an agenda to resuscitate the country and save the Conservative Party, now in free fall. “We will halve inflation, grow the economy, reduce debt, cut waiting lists and stop the boats,” he intoned. You’d be forgiven for hearing a note of desperation. Sunak, after all, entered office with a mountain to climb. The cost-of-living crisis is just the start: Wherever you turn, strife seems to rise to meet you. To name but a few, there’s the health care crisis, the housing crisis (both ownership and rental), the education crisis, the child care crisis, the transport crisis, the climate crisis and, not least, the constitutional crisis threatening the end of the union with Scotland. In Britain, it’s far easier to document what isn’t teetering on the brink of collapse.

Even a great statesman would need more than three months to make headway on such deep-rooted social ills. But the early signs are not good. Far from fulfilling his promise to bring “stability and unity” to both the country and his party, the prime minister has done the opposite. A new era may have begun, but it’s not going well.

For a start, Sunak has done little to alter his reputation as a cautious technocrat. Plans for the economy, unveiled in November, announced major spending cuts but delayed the bulk of them until 2025. Balancing between further immiserating the public and appeasing the markets whose ire brought Liz Truss’s premiership to such a dramatic end, it wasn’t a death blow to the nation’s economy. But it merely maintains a failing system.

And the situation is dire. British households are in the midst of the biggest fall in living standards since the 1950s, yet Sunak seems to have little idea of how to reverse it. Vague promises to bring down inflation do little to bring actual improvement to people’s lives. Add a dubious effort to coax recent retirees back into work and plans to deregulate the City of London, some of which have already been abandoned, and the overall impression is of a leader both misfiring and weak.

It doesn’t help that Sunak began his tenure with unnecessary missteps, not least the reappointment of Suella Braverman as home secretary less than a week after she was sacked for a serious security breach. Ms. Braverman’s fixation on deepening an already inhumanely hostile environment for migrants clearly proved more persuasive than her track record of incompetence, gaffes and sheer ignorance. The subsequent bungled handling of a bullying scandal, where Sunak refused to dismiss a cabinet member accused of serial misconduct, further frayed the prime minister’s reputation almost before he’d begun.

Struggling to manage his party, Sunak has abandoned key policies in response to internal pressure. In December, for example, the government scrapped plans to introduce sorely needed mandatory home-construction targets for local councils, saving Sunak from a backbench rebellion. To head off another, the prime minister relaxed a ban on onshore wind farms that he’d previously supported.

Yet when it comes to his biggest battles, Sunak has already shown a penchant for inflexibility rather than negotiation. In the face of the biggest wave of public sector strikes in a generation, the prime minister’s refusal to hammer out deals with union bosses has seen him scorned as “missing in action.” Instead, Sunak has unveiled an assault on the right to strike, introducing new laws that would require “minimum service levels” in key services and leave unions liable for legal action if they are not met.

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