Why Rishi Sunak's Honeymoon Period In Number 10 Is Already Over

Why Rishi Sunak's Honeymoon Period In Number 10 Is Already Over (Photo: Illustration:Jianan Liu/HuffPost Photo:Getty Images)
Why Rishi Sunak's Honeymoon Period In Number 10 Is Already Over (Photo: Illustration:Jianan Liu/HuffPost Photo:Getty Images)

Why Rishi Sunak's Honeymoon Period In Number 10 Is Already Over (Photo: Illustration:Jianan Liu/HuffPost Photo:Getty Images)

If Rishi Sunak was under any illusions about the size of the task confronting him when he became prime minister nearly two weeks ago, they have long since disappeared.

When he stood on the steps of Downing Street on October 24, he promised “integrity, professionalism and accountability” as he sought to draw a line under the chaotic Boris Johnson and Liz Truss premierships.

But it hasn’t taken long for it to become clear to the new PM that simply replacing the woman at the top does not make the UK’s many problems disappear.

Whether it’s rebuilding the government’s shattered finances, tackling the migration crisis or ending the civil war within his own party, Sunak does not have his troubles to seek.

Here, HuffPost UK looks at how the problems are already piling up for the new PM less than a fortnight after he was handed the keys to Number 10.

The economy, stupid

As Bill Clinton adviser James Corville famously observed 30 years ago, elections are won and lost over “the economy, stupid”.

If that is indeed the case, then Sunak has his work cut out preventing the Tories heading for defeat the next time voters go to the polls, most likely towards the end of 2024.

The Bank of England this week set out in stark terms the perilous state of the UK’s economy as they hiked interest rates by 0.75% to 3%, heaping more misery on those with mortgages.

With inflation at around 10%, the Bank said the UK economy was already in recession and likely to stay there until 2024 - the longest downturn in 100 years.

Andrew Bailey, the Bank’s governor, also revealed that the UK was just hours away from financial “meltdown” in the wake of the disastrous mini-budget.

On November 17, chancellor Jeremy Hunt will set out the tax rises and public spending cuts he and Sunak believe are necessary to plug the £50bn black hole in the nation’s finances.

Angry at having to sell this gloomy package to their constituents, a significant number of Tory MPs will be in no mood to do Downing Street’s bidding as Sunak tries to force his plans through the Commons.

A Braverman than I

Sunak’s decision to re-appoint Suella Braverman as home secretary just six days after she was sacked by Liz Truss for breaking the ministerial code was seen as the first misstep of his time in Number 10.

Her handling of the migrant crisis - which has seen thousands illegally detained at the Manston processing centre in Kent - has only served to re-inforce the widely-held view among Tory MPs that she is simply not up to the job.

Braverman angered many MPs - including numerous Tories - when she claimed the UK was facing an “invasion” of migrants.

Worryingly for the PM, Conservative MPs are already going public with their concerns about the worsening situation and the home secretary’s ability to deal with it.

Former immigration minister Damian Green said: “The Home Office has taken its eye off the ball. A lot of concentration and effort and bandwith has been used devising schemes like Rwanda and frankly the money would be better spent employing more people to process asylum applications.”

Tory MP Selaine Saxby said she was “on the fence” over whether Braverman will be able to get a grip on the situation.

Giving the home secretary her old job back called into question Sunak’s judgment on his first day in the job. The length of her tenure will go a long way to determining the PM’s own political future.

Suella Braverman's re-appointment as home secretary has called Sunak's judgment into question. (Photo: Victoria Jones via PA Wire/PA Images)
Suella Braverman's re-appointment as home secretary has called Sunak's judgment into question. (Photo: Victoria Jones via PA Wire/PA Images)

Suella Braverman's re-appointment as home secretary has called Sunak's judgment into question. (Photo: Victoria Jones via PA Wire/PA Images)

The laddie is for turning

Constant U-turns became Liz Truss’s trademark during her six weeks in office, and Sunak is already showing worrying signs of following in her footsteps.

Earlier this week he announced that he would be going to the Cop27 conference in Egypt, having initially said he would be too busy working on the autumn statement to attend.

Downing Street have also confirmed that every pledge Sunak made in the Tory leadership contest - which was only three months ago, believe it or not - were now under review, meaning they may never see the light of day.

They included a promise to slash the basic rate of income tax to 16p by 2029 and £10 fines for people who miss GP appointments.

This is embarrassing because the PM has previously accused Keir Starmer of making promises to become Labour leader which he then dumped once he was in post.

Polling problems

Given how far behind Labour the Tories were in the final days of Truss’s time in office, it’s unsurprising that Sunak has managed to slightly improve his party’s dire poll numbers.

However, there has been no major upturn in the party’s fortunes, so far at least.

As polling guru Professor Sir John Curtice pointed out this week, it will be “very difficult” for Sunak to repair the damage done to the Tories’ reputation by Johnson and Truss in time for the next election.

The immediate worry for Tory MPs is that once the government starts implementing austerity 2.0 while also putting up people’s taxes, voters will decide that it really is time for a change after 12 years of Conservative rule.

It’s not all bad news, though

Despite the grim legacy bequeathed to him by his predecessor, Tory MPs - who overwhelmingly backed Sunak for PM once Truss fell on her sword - are more positive than they have been for months.

One former cabinet minister told HuffPost UK: “After the Liz experience and the prospect of Boris coming back, we felt we’d had a near death experience and now we’re just elated to be alive.

“But that initial euphoria has already worn off and the last week has been a bit more of a reality check.

“Rishi’s very professional, technocratic and stable but all the other underlying issues haven’t gone away.

“He’s basically got two years to demonstrate the Conservatives can be trusted with the economy.”

One Tory MP said: “Most people will have welcomed the fact he can’t take forward any of the more radical things he was saying in the leadership contest because after the last few years, no one wants radical any more.

″There are things that we can say and do that create division with Labour - they’re not on the right side of every argument, such as clamping down on rail strikes and stopping protesters glueing themselves to the road.

“Rishi needs to go all-in on November 17, be straight with people about what we’re doing and then spend the next two years doing it. Then, we’ve got a chance.”

This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.

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