I was in my constituency office when Rishi Sunak was making his first major speech since the day he walked into Downing Street. I guess it was nice to hear from him. Snippets of his speech played out in my office, interrupted by meetings and constituents.
His overtures were sandwiched between a meeting with the police superintendent for my local area and disabled constituents who can’t access the warm homes support even though their neurological disability literally makes them cold and their disability aids cost them thousands in electricity.
Written in technicolour during my working day was a decade of failing services and limiting and reducing access and capability of hardworking people and public services. Sunak seems to want to pretend that this has nothing to do with him; laying out his plans for economic and public service recovery without even the slightest hint of what it might need to recover from. As if Sunak has landed in Downing Street and hasn’t been part of the governing party and cabinet for eight of their 13 years.
I’m grateful that there were distractions in the office while he spoke, as he was less than gripping. However, I tuned back just as the PM started saying that politicians were concerned about talking about family and went on to make out that talking about family has become some sort of minefield. I can’t say that is something I have ever noticed and I assume that Sunak is simply out of touch with people and politicians alike who talk about how important family is all the time. He seemed to think it was very bold and brave to say that family matters. His idea of bravery and mine seem to differ slightly.
He didn’t mention that – for lots of families – the massive productivity problem that they face is caused by a lack of available childcare or carer support. He was never going to. I guess when he says that people should be able to rely on their families, he means that care should first and foremost always be via the free labour of the women in your family, and then we can consider how the state might help.
To be fair to Sunak, in the few questions I watched him answer before another ring at my constituency office door pulled me away, he did seem well briefed. He had lots to say about the NHS, knowing he would be asked about the terrible crisis in pretty much every hospital and ambulance trust in the country. Words that will likely be too little too late in the Conservative 13-year run. I realised after cutting him this slack that he was benefiting from the illusion of low expectations because he didn’t have a tough act to follow in the shape of Johnson and Truss – he didn’t seem to suffer from complete system shutdown mid-answer, nor did he segue into chatting about Peppa Pig.
As for his promises, promising that inflation will half is a bit like promising that next week Wednesday will follow Tuesday because in pretty much every forecast, that was going to happen anyway. As for growth, if Sunak now even delivers the promised 0.01 per cent, he will expect us all to do the conga in the street.
He will easily pass laws about stopping small boats, because he has a parliamentary majority so passing legislation is pretty easy. The fact that he has been in government where such legislation has already been passed and has made no difference doesn’t seem to trouble him.
If he reduces NHS waiting lists by one, he will have achieved his promise on that front. Millions may still be waiting, but a deal is a deal. So, he will likely keep a few of these promises, much like I will keep my promise not to eat swan this year. Sometimes it’s going to be tough, I’ll be honest with you, but I hope I’ll manage it just as I have for the other 41 years I have been alive.
Sunak does have to show he can deliver – it’s the last chance saloon, it’s the only card he can play. But unless he can deliver something seismic that will mean my constituents can get a doctor’s appointment, can call an ambulance and it will come, can get a care package for their loved ones or themselves, can have easy access to affordable childcare, can afford to live on their wages, or even just get a passport in time, the prime minister standing before them this time next year saying “look I said I would do these things and I did them” will seem tone deaf.
On the day of his speech, figures revealed that real wages are lower today in every UK region than they were when the Conservatives came to power. People have to be able to feel that things are better. That’s the test, what’s better?
It was nice to finally hear from the prime minister about his hopes for Britain – and it was quite something else to hear my constituents and local services puncturing his speech. I can tell you now who was more compelling. It wasn’t the prime minister who grabbed my attention, he seems to live in a different world from the one we do.
Jess Phillips is the shadow minister for domestic violence and safeguarding and Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley