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One Hundred Days of Rishi

By Harry Brown
02 February 2023
Public Affairs

By Harry Brown

Today marks exactly one hundred days since Rishi Sunak replaced Liz Truss as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and stood on the steps of Downing Street and promised a government of “integrity, accountability and professionalism.”

Faced with a daunting set of challenges, including sky-rocketing inflation, the Brexit impasse, the war in Ukraine and widespread industrial action, Sunak was tasked with calming the markets and providing a broader sense of stability that had long been absent from British politics.

Fast forward a hundred days and there have been two cabinet sackings, one fixed penalty notice, and a damning forecast from the IMF on the state of the UK economy. Furthermore, the war in Ukraine rumbles on; issues remain with Brexit, and the nation seems to be grinding to a halt with widespread industrial action on almost a monthly basis. That’s not to mention the lack of bounce in the polls that usually comes with a new leader; Labour is still harbouring a 25-point lead, and a damning set of polling figures revealed today by Times Radio found that only 13% of people think Sunak will be Prime Minister after the next election.

Perhaps this was to be expected, given the scale of the mess that Sunak was inheriting. There was never going to be a quick fix. So, what have we learnt from the first hundred days that Sunak has been in power, and what are the PM’s plans for turning the country and the government’s fortunes around?

The critical issue for the PM and his team is tackling inflation. During the initial leadership debate between Truss and Sunak, the now-PM can feel vindicated in that he did predict the economic turmoil that duly unravelled following Truss’ mini-budget. However, this policy will not immediately resonate with voters as the PM keeps taxes high and refuses to give public sector workers the pay rise they feel they deserve. As Sunak said so often in last summer’s leadership debate, he does not want to “fuel the flames of inflation.”

Furthermore, Sunak wants to simplify the metrics by which he is judged. In his new year’s speech, he set out five objectives to be measured. Namely, halving inflation, growing the economy, lowering debt, reducing NHS waiting lists and gripping the small boats crossing the channel. Sunak wants to be able to turn around to the electorate in a year and say he promised these five targets and delivered on them.

Whilst Sunak has set clear and measurable policy goals, a more significant challenge that has damaged his first hundred days in office has been issues of sleaze and professionalism that have become so intertwined with this government since the 2019 election.

The recent sacking of Party Chairman Nadhim Zahawi after he reached a multimillion-pound settlement to a tax dispute with HMRC while he was Chancellor had done little to detoxify the Conservative brand, and despite swiftly firing Zahawi upon receiving the findings of the independent report, Sunak’s appointment of Zahawi in the first place has raised questions. The Zahwai affair also follows the controversy of reappointing Home Secretary Suella Braverman in his first cabinet. Further trouble is on the horizon with the findings of the inquiry into Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab and bullying allegations expected in a few weeks.

Ultimately, the first hundred days for Sunak have shown he has little wiggle room. The PM will likely be hoping he is judged instead on the next 300 days by which point he can turn to the country with inflation down, the protocol dealt with, and as the leader who was able to guide the UK through choppy waters with the accountability, professionalism and integrity he promised.