Voices: Rishi Sunak’s New Year speech: What he said – and what he really meant

What Rishi Sunak said: New Year should be a time of optimism and excitement. Yet I know many of you look ahead to 2023 with apprehension.

What he really meant:Boris Johnson and Liz Truss have dug me such a deep hole that it will be a miracle if I get out alive. Still, here’s hoping.

What he said: Let me first address two issues that I know are at the forefront of everyone’s minds: I know there are challenges in A&E – people are understandably anxious when they see ambulances queuing outside hospitals.

What he meant: Tony Blair’s tactic of taking what people are worried about head on. And it’s not maths.

What he said: This government will always reflect the people’s priorities.

What he meant: The people’s government, the people’s priorities. New Labour phrases; New Tory government.

What he said: People don’t want politicians who promise the earth and then fail to deliver.

What he meant: Which is why the Conservatives are in such trouble.

What he said: They want government to focus less on politics and more on the things they care about.

What he meant: This is more by way of private joke. “Politician says we should do less politics,” as if politics isn’t all about focusing on the things people care about.

What he said: Since I became prime minister, we’ve made progress: stabilised the economy and people’s mortgage rates …

What he meant: I reversed the disaster of my predecessor’s reign of error, but mortgage rates are still higher than they were.

What he said: … And set out a concrete plan to stop the boats.

What he meant: A concrete plan: either dropping concrete blocks on them or building a concrete wall across the middle of the Channel. I’ll let you know when I’ve decided.

What he said: But of course, we need to do more. So I want to make five promises to you today.

What he meant: Like the New Labour pledge card of 1997. It worked for them, although those, too, were mostly things that were going to happen anyway.

What he said: NHS waiting lists will fall.

What he meant: That one’s a bit tricky. If I bury it at number four of five, people might not notice that I haven’t said which lists when.

What he said: We will either have achieved them or not. No tricks, no ambiguity: we’re either delivering for you or we’re not.

What he meant: Or we’re somewhere in the middle arguing about definitions. Some ambiguity possibly. But definitely no tricks.

What he said: We will rebuild trust in politics through action, or not at all.

What he meant: We will not rebuild trust in politics, but we only have to be as distrusted as the other guy.

What he said: So, I ask you to judge us on the effort we put in and the results we achieve.

What he meant: Please, judge us on the effort we put in. We will try very hard. The results will be outside our control.

What he said: Politicians talk a lot about change…

What he meant: Keir Starmer is giving a speech tomorrow.

What he said: But the truth is, no government, no prime minister, can change a country by force of will or diktat alone. Real change isn’t provided – it’s created. It’s not given – it’s demanded. Not granted – but invented.

What he meant: True change must come from the people. And if people are disappointed by the lack of change, they have only themselves to blame. Definitely not the prime minister, who has only been in the job for 71 days and is trying very hard.

What he said: We need to change the way our country works.

What he meant: I have a copy of Keir Starmer’s speech here and will steal some of his lines.

What he said: That’s why we are … seizing the opportunities of Brexit to ensure our regulatory system is agile and pro-innovation.

What he meant: I will mention Brexit once, in passing.

What he said: I believe good, well-paid jobs are about more than just financial security. They give people purpose, confidence, dignity – the chance to build a better life for themselves.

What he meant: I believe in a bright green future, powered by recycling. This section is recycled Gordon Brown on the dignity of work, as rewritten by ChatGPT.

What he said: But I also believe that if you work hard and play by the rules you should be rewarded.

What he meant: Now some recycled Bill Clinton from the 1992 US election 30 years ago.

What he said: Strong communities are also built on values, on the golden rule: treat others as you would like to be treated yourself.

What he meant: Back to some recycled Tony Blair.

What he said: Anti-social behaviour isn’t inevitable or a minor crime. It makes life miserable for so many and it can be a gateway to more extreme crimes. So, this government will work tirelessly to crack down on anti-social behaviour … giving communities confidence that these crimes will be quickly and visibly punished.

What he meant: March them to a cashpoint.

What he said: As chancellor, I introduced Multiply, a new programme to give hundreds of thousands of adults the opportunity to get the basic numerical skills they need.

What he meant: I am very clever. Let me explain it to you.

What he said: I am now making numeracy a central objective of the education system.

What he meant: New Labour did the literacy and numeracy hour in primary schools, but frankly some of you failed to build on the opportunity and would still struggle to make a pivot table in Excel.

What he said: Just imagine what greater numeracy will unlock for people: the skills to feel confident with your finances, to find the best mortgage deal or savings rate; the ability to do your job better and get paid more; and greater self-confidence to navigate a changing world.

What he meant: It’s for your own good.

What he said: At a time when we’re putting record sums into the NHS, and recruiting record numbers of doctors and nurses, healthcare professionals are still unable to deliver the care they want, and patients aren’t receiving the care they deserve. So we need to recognise that something has to change.

What he meant: The private sector could do a better job, but that’s not realistic, so…

What he said: That doesn’t mean structural reforms to the NHS. We will always protect the founding principle of an NHS free at the point of use. But what it does mean is an NHS where patients are in control, with as much choice as possible.

What he meant: What he meant: New Labour, New Britain, New NHS.

What he said: Family is something politicians struggle to talk about because you can all too readily be pilloried for being out of touch or, worse, hostile to those who don’t conform to some idealised form.

What he meant: But there are also a lot of socially conservative voters out there who like a bit of the old traditional family platitudes.

What he said: We’re going to roll out Family Hubs to offer parents the support they need to raise a child.

What he meant: Someone suggested we should call them Sure Start centres, but I don’t think they would roll so well if put on their sides.

What he said: As well as peace of mind today, this afternoon I’ve also set out a vision for a better future for our children and grandchildren. We’re not going to get there overnight. Or even in this parliament. But this is the journey we are on.

What he meant: Tony Blair went on a journey.

What he said: Others may talk about change, I will deliver it. I won’t offer you false hope or quick fixes, but meaningful, lasting change.

What he meant: Keir Starmer will do his “time for change” shtick tomorrow. Don’t buy it. I have better technocratic answers to difficult questions.

What he said: I want people to feel something that they do not always feel today: a belief that public services work for them; a knowledge that if you work hard in the good times, the state will be there for you during the bad.

What he meant: If you want New Labour statism, vote for me.

What he said: I will only promise what I can deliver. And I will deliver what I promise.

What he meant: My promises will be beige and modest and no one will ever know whether they’ve been delivered or not.