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​​A not so happy anniversary? Assessing Rishi Sunak’s first year as Prime Minister

Rishi Sunak
By Joe Cooper
26 October 2023
Public Affairs

​A year is a long time in politics. When Rishi Sunak became the Prime Minister in October last year, his immediate task was to bring an end to Conservative Party infighting and provide some degree of economic stability following the disastrous ‘mini-Budget’ which signalled the beginning of Liz Truss’s short time in Number 10.

​Though the Prime Minister can credibly claim varying degrees of success on those two objectives, 12 months on and the job looks considerably harder. Trailing in the polls by an average just shy of 20 points, Sunak finds himself another two seats light, having suffered further electoral defeat in the Mid Bedfordshire and Tamworth by-elections, with a further by-election in Wellingborough looming. ​ 

​The Prime Minister’s political brand has largely been one which emphasised his track record for delivering and getting on with the job at hand without all the distractions that plagued Boris Johnson and Liz Truss’s premierships.  

​​To this effect, the Prime Minister started the year by setting out his five priorities for the year (not to be confused with the Labour Party’s five missions) of: halving the rate of inflation; growing the economy; reducing national debt; reducing NHS waiting lists; and getting on top of the small boats crisis.  

​On each of these metrics, the Prime Minister finds himself coming up short. Inflation stands at 6.7 per cent, economic growth remains sluggish, and the NHS backlog keeps going up. The picture looks slightly better for the Prime Minister on the small boats front. The number of Channel crossings has fallen by around a third in the past year, but December’s Supreme Court hearing on the government’s controversial Rwanda policy could threaten to throw another spanner in the works. When announcing these goals, the Prime Minister said that he fully expected to be held accountable to them – so as we enter the new year, expect Parliament to do just that.  

​What, then, is the Prime Minister to do if he is to avoid this being his first and only year in Number 10? Immediate attention will turn now to the King’s Speech and Autumn Statement, where he will set out his government’s legislative and economic agendas for the final parliamentary session before the next election.  

​Sunak and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt have thus far resisted calls for tax cuts, but with the election looming, the pair may decide that now is the time to push the button in hope that the public will reap the benefits before casting their votes.  

​Sunak will also take some heart from the fact that, though his party remains far behind in the polls, Keir Starmer’s personal popularity remains some way short of Tony Blair’s in 1997.  

​Moreover, the Uxbridge by-election proved that the party can still cut through when deploying impactful, locally driven campaigns which focus on key issues such as ULEZ. Though this isn’t a model which can be deployed everywhere, it may help to curb some of the worst losses and turn a potential landslide defeat into a less severe one.  

​The Prime Minister is running out of time but expect these next few weeks to prove crucial if he’s to remain in office for many more years to come.