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Sunak enters No.10 promising to restore trust

By Fraser Raleigh
25 October 2022

By Fraser Raleigh

Rishi Sunak today promised to “restore trust after all that has happened” as he took office as Prime Minister after an extraordinary period in British politics. 

Just two months after entering No.10, Liz Truss departed for the last time with a defence of both her attempts to boost growth by lowering taxes and her package of support to address rising energy bills. In his own speech, Sunak paid tribute to Truss’s “noble aim” and “restlessness to create change” but said that “mistakes were made” and vowed to fix them.

Sunak spent the day assembling his new cabinet, with a number of Truss’s senior ministers departing, as he attempted a balancing act that could keep the different wings of the party placated. 

Out went Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg, Work and Pensions Secretary Chloe Smith, Justice Secretary Brandon Lewis, Environment Secretary Ranil Jayawardena, Education Secretary Kit Malthouse, Levelling Up Secretary Simon Clarke, Chief Whip Wendy Morton, Party Chair, Jake Berry, and Welsh Secretary Robert Buckland. 

In came Dominic Raab, resuming his role as both Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Secretary. James Cleverly – a key ally of Boris Johnson – remains Foreign Secretary, while Suella Braverman – who surprisingly threw her support behind Sunak instead of Johnson over the weekend – returns as Home Secretary just a few days after resigning, with Grant Shapps making way and heading to the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Department. Nadhim Zahawi, who also backed Johnson, becomes Party Chair, while Sunak’s trusted ally Oliver Dowden moves into the Cabinet Office. Most surprisingly, his leadership rival Penny Mordaunt was not offered a promotion as most expected, and will stay as Leader of the House of Commons.

As he settles in for his first evening in No.10, Sunak faces an even more daunting set of challenges that he was expecting to inherit during this summer’s leadership contest. 

First, he must project authority and provide confidence to the markets after the turmoil that followed the mini-Budget. He will hope that keeping Jeremy Hunt as Chancellor will help ahead of next Monday’s planned medium term fiscal statement and that he can lean on his own record from both his time in the Treasury and the vindication of his warnings about Truss’s economic programme.

Secondly, he must prove to Conservative MPs that he can unite the party as he promised when he addressed them yesterday. The deep divisions that have been papered over with varying degrees of success since the Brexit referendum have again been on full public display in recent weeks and while Sunak was the clear preference of Conservative MPs, he was not the universal choice. Both Boris Johnson and Penny Mordaunt put up a fight before accepting that they could either not make the nomination threshold or that they faced losing badly among MPs and a so risked a re-run of the problems Liz Truss faced if they went on to win among the party membership.

Thirdly, and most importantly for his long-term prospects, he must convince the public that the Conservatives can be trusted again with the economy and are not destined for heavy defeat at the next general election. Sunak attempted to head off calls for an early election, promising to deliver manifesto commitments on health, education, crime, immigration and the environment. Implicitly rejecting the criticisms over the weekend of Johnson’s supporters, he insisted today that “the mandate my party earned in 2019 is not the sole property of any one individual, it is a mandate that belongs to and unites us all”.

But as his last four bloodied and bruised predecessors as Conservative leader will attest, how long he can maintain that unity will determine how long – and how successful – his time in No.10 will ultimately be.