Sunak’s time in power may be limited – but he’s still playing the long game

The question of how Rishi Sunak will be remembered remains unanswered
The question of how Rishi Sunak will be remembered remains unanswered

Legacy has been the buzzword of the week in Westminster as Liz Truss busily toured TV studios to promote her new book, Ten Years to Save the West.

She may have only been in power for 49 days but, in her attempt to rebrand herself as “the only Conservative in the room”, the 48-year-old former prime minister appears determined not to go down as a mere footnote in history.

Meanwhile, her predecessor Boris Johnson continues to pen his autobiography, described by an ally as “not so much a life story as a treatise on levelling up”.

As Sir Winston Churchill famously put it: “History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it.”

Liz Truss with her book
Liz Truss appears determined not to go down as a mere footnote in history

The question of how Rishi Sunak will be remembered remains unanswered amid all the uncertainty of what the next six months will bring.

Despite the Conservatives polling 23 percentage points behind Labour, the Prime Minister appears determined to keep the focus on “long-term decisions for a brighter future” in the vein of last year’s Tory party conference slogan.

Even if, as the polls suggest, the 43-year-old is not in office come 2025, it’s all about delivering what he has described as “meaningful” change “to benefit our children and grandchildren for decades to come”.

The Conservatives may be facing an electoral Armageddon, but the ever-cheerful Mr Sunak and his equally hopeful team appear to believe it will all be worth it if they “leave Britain in a better place”.

Acting in the “national interest” is currently deemed more important than landing blows on Sir Keir Starmer’s resurgent Labour in what supporters will interpret as mature government – and critics will see as politically naive idealism.

On Friday, with this altruistic approach in mind, he announced plans to overhaul the benefits system to ensure that people who are fit to work “aren’t left behind”.

The Prime Minister’s vision for a “new welfare settlement for Britain” comes amid an unprecedented rise in inactivity due to long-term sickness. The latest figures show that almost a third of working age adults are inactive.

He outlined five reforms which will help to modernise the welfare system “to ensure it is fit for the future”.

It comes after a week that has witnessed a number of “legacy” projects, which will ensure that Mr Sunak is not forgotten even as his youthful portrait gathers dust on the Downing Street staircase.

His proposed smoking ban, which passed its first parliamentary hurdle on Tuesday, would make it illegal to sell tobacco products to anyone born after Jan 1 2009 – realising the Prime Minister’s dream of creating a “smoke-free” generation in the decades to come.

Should the flagship Tobacco and Vaping Bill become law in the coming months, as expected, Mr Sunak will forever be remembered as the man who stopped children smoking, regardless of the outcome of the general election.

Could a social media ban for under-16s also be in the offing as part of the Sunak heritage project? The Government is expected to unveil plans for tougher age restrictions on apps such as Facebook and WhatsApp, which currently allow children as young as 13 to sign up as members.

As part of the proposed consultation, parents will also be canvassed on banning under-16s from buying smartphones and on whether extra safeguards, enabling parents to monitor and control access to social media sites, should be installed until children reach a certain age.

Will Tanner, Mr Sunak’s deputy chief of staff, is also said to be heavily involved in the proposals, suggesting that they have the support of the Prime Minister in principle despite them potentially putting him on a collision course with Mark Zuckerberg’s Meta, the parent company of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp.

“As a parent, I am always worried about social media and what my young girls are exposed to,” the Prime Minister, a father of two, said in February.

Being faced with the prospect of a shorter term of office than all of his immediate predecessors bar one has not stopped him from wanting to play the long game.