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Analysis: Can Rishi Sunak end the chaos and restore Britain’s credibility?


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CNN

Rishi Sunak’s rise to the highest post in British politics is remarkable. Just seven weeks ago, he was soundly beaten by Liz Truss in the Conservative Party leadership race. Today, having emerged victorious from a leadership race that was accelerated after the wreckage of his short term as prime minister, he is just an audience with King Charles III away from Downing Street.

Sunak will travel to Buckingham Palace on Tuesday morning for his audience with the King, after which he will become Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

The man who served as Boris Johnson’s finance minister for two-and-a-half years, only to step down and overthrow Johnson’s government, now faces the unenviable task of reclaiming a reeling nation after Truss’ disastrous tenure.

He will, it is fair to assume, by implementing the economic plan he outlined during his failed leadership bid earlier this year. Sunak criticized Truss’ plans to cut taxes and fund daily expenses through borrowing, saying it would wreak economic havoc.

He was right when the Truss government implemented its plans in a ‘mini-budget’, which sent the pound plummeting to its lowest level in decades and bond prices crashing, driving up in skyrocketing borrowing costs and pushing pension funds to the brink of insolvency.

As Sunak also predicted, rising interest rates drove up mortgage repayments and lenders rushed to pull their products off the market, dashing the hopes of many would-be homeowners almost overnight.

Britain’s international reputation had already taken a hit before Truss came to power. The endless scandals that eventually forced Johnson out of office, in addition to his repeated threats to break international law over the Brexit deal he personally agreed to with the European Union, had not made world leaders sympathetic towards the UK.

This is not to say that the UK is irrelevant on the world stage. The government’s support for Ukraine, for example, has won Britain – and Johnson in particular – praise from other Western leaders.

Former US national security adviser John Bolton wrote in Politico on Monday that “Britain has been the main foreign power backing Ukraine. Under the triumvirate of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Defense Secretary Ben Wallace, London was at the forefront of political determination and leadership.

Sunak’s membership can be directly attributed to the chaos of the past few months. He is considered a pair of safe hands, having won wide acclaim for his stewardship of the economy during the Covid-19 pandemic, helping businesses and citizens with major government spending programs that have saved many livelihoods. subsistence. His job is now clear: to restore calm.

Unfortunately for Sunak, he inherited a political party that has spent the past few years tearing itself apart. The Conservative Party of 2022 is defined by factionalism and split loyalties that have made it ungovernable for both Johnson and Truss.

The party is divided on many more lines than left and right, but Sunak is likely to have the hardest time with the populist Brexiteer wing of the party that adored Johnson.

“The reality is that the tougher elements of the Brexiteer right probably haven’t backed anyone because they know there’s a row coming with the new prime minister over Brexit,” Salma told CNN. Shah, a former Conservative adviser. “One of Sunak’s main priorities will be to negotiate the Northern Ireland Protocol (a disputed part of the post-Brexit deal). If it doesn’t go their way, they can turn around.

Sunak can ignore or appease these people, but that might mean having to swallow a big slice of humble pie.

“He can try to neutralize people in this wing of the party who won’t forgive him for ‘betraying’ Boris or his budget restrictions by appointing a cabinet that appeases them. Potentially that means swallowing his pride and finding something for Boris and Liz Truss to do,” Shah added.

If he doesn’t, Johnson could cause problems for Sunak from the benches, should he be in the mood for revenge.

“Presumably he won’t put him in government, which could mean he causes problems for backbench MPs. I guess they must be hoping he gives up his seat and goes off to make some money” , said Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University.

Party management is something that may elude Sunak in the immediate future. What is firmly in his gift, however, is economic policy and relations with international partners.

“He’s someone who has a lot of global experience outside of politics and who also deals with global figures as chancellor. He’s a good communicator and he knows what he’s talking about when it comes to economy. So I think there is every chance it will be welcomed by the international community not only if it can fix the economy but also UK politics,” Bale added.

In an ideal world for Sunak, he would bring economic stability, and with it, bring political stability. But longtime observers of British politics will know that the two don’t always go hand in hand.

“He will have to implement policies because of the Truss mini-budget which will be politically unpopular with different groups for different reasons,” said Vicky Pryce, former co-head of the UK’s Government Economic Service.

That, Pryce said, could mean austerity to balance the books, windfall taxes on energy companies and the reversal of Truss’s idea to remove caps on banker bonuses. “He must balance policies that might infuriate Tory MPs against policies that might turn the public against him.”

For their part, the Conservative MPs and councilors are a mixture of relieved, furious, worried and in some cases defeated. Some think the public will appreciate a bit of peace and quiet amid the political chaos. Some are beside themselves that the man who took down Johnson succeeded. Some think Sunak is going to be too soft on Brexit. Some think that the next election is already lost.

In theory, there are still at least two years before the next legislative elections are held. That’s more than enough time for Sunak to stabilize the ship and restore the disastrous conservative ratings to something more competitive. But he has to take his party with him.

And if recent weeks are any indication, the new Prime Minister could become another Tory leader who is forced to spend more time managing his own party’s internal politics than dealing with the huge problems facing his country. .

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