Sunak outlines a two-part plan for his tenure as prime minister

Rishi Sunak waited more than two months before delivering his first major domestic speech as prime minister, and when it finally came, he chose a venue that embodied the kind of Britain he wanted to build.

plexala self-proclaimed “innovation ecosystem that solves technological challenges,” features artificial turf, primary colors and lofty views over east London’s Olympic Park, now taking shape as a major technology hub.

But Sunak conceded in his speech that before he can “change the character of our country” and build an innovative nation, he first faces the more prosaic task of getting Britain out of a deep hole.

He clearly sees his premiership in two parts: the first is to revitalize the country’s struggling economy and civil services, weather the odds and make the Conservatives competitive in the expected 2024 election.

The second phase is what US President George HW Bush called “The Vision Thing”: a post-election reinterpretation of the UK as a “beacon of science, technology and entrepreneurship” inhabited by a newly educated population.

It’s far from clear whether Sunak, who has a home in Santa Monica and studied at Stanford alongside the world’s tech pioneers, will stand a chance of realizing the second part of his plan.

The first part of his speech laid out the five measures by which the public will judge him in the next election: halving inflation, growing the economy, reducing public debt, reducing NHS waiting times and tackling illegal migration.

The public can use other metrics to judge Sunak, such as whether the country is functioning. Labor sniffed that his five pledges were things that happened anyway and were “so simple it would be difficult not to achieve them”.

The Prime Minister recognized his first challenge is to tackle the NHS crisis, including resolving strikes by nurses and ambulance workers, who enjoy considerable public support.

“In the coming days we will update you on the government’s next steps,” Sunak said. Allies explained that he was referring to a carrot-and-stick approach to public sector pay disputes.

The first element would be the release of new anti-strike legislation that would make it harder for public sector workers to cause massive disruption to essential services, but the second was much more forgiving.

Sunak pledged “proper dialogue” with unions and his colleagues said the PM hoped the NHS disputes over this year’s paycheck could be settled by making a better offer to nurses and ambulances next year.

“He wants discussions about what is fair and appropriate for the next year,” said a Sunak ally, referring to a pay round that will take effect from April 2023.

Sunak wants ministers to discuss with unions the ground rules for the independent pay review bodies next year before formal requests are made – a potential olive branch.

Dealing with the strikes is just one item on a daunting list of problems facing Sunak.

The NHS crisis is not prone to quick fixes, while Sunak’s promise to “stop the boats” taking people across the English Channel could prove the most elusive of his five promises.

But Sunak is hoping that falling inflation and a temporary rebound in wholesale gas prices will help restore economic growth well ahead of the election, allowing him to claim the country is on track.

But where? A leading manufacturer said after Sunak’s speech, “Did you notice that he didn’t mention making things?” Another business leader agreed that the prime minister was not overly interested in the industry.

Sunak argued that innovation, the big theme of the second part of his speech, is about wealth creation.

“The change we need is to put innovation at the heart of what we do,” he said. “New jobs are created by innovation, people’s wages are increased by innovation, the cost of goods and services is reduced by innovation, and major challenges like energy security and net zero are solved by innovation.”

Sunak sees his plan to ensure that all young people in England receive some form of maths education by the age of 18 as an important part of his innovation revolution.

The subtext of Sunak’s speech was that he wants to do something like this when he’s cleaned up the mess he’s inherited – and when he can overcome the dismal poll numbers and win the next election.

Nadine Dorries, a former Tory cabinet minister and close ally of ex-Prime Minister Boris Johnson, has been scathing about Sunak’s program, deriding his plan to “continue teaching math with teachers we don’t even have.”

“Three years of progressive Tory government going down the drain” she said on Twitterand claimed that Sunak is neglecting retail-friendly policies like tackling regional disparities.

Dorries also claimed Sunak would abandon a promised “bonfire of EU legislation,” though the Prime Minister insisted he would use Brexit “freedoms” to create more agile rules, “whether it’s artificial intelligence, whether it is quantum or life science or fintech”.

Angela Rayner, Labor Deputy Leader, said: “This doing nothing PM is too weak to stand up against his party or against his own interests. That means he can’t make big decisions about everything from housing and planning laws to closing tax avoidance loopholes to put the country first.

“For weeks this speech has been hailed as his grand vision – now that he has delivered it, the country may ask, ‘Is that it?'”

https://www.ft.com/content/e1891e7a-dd33-44ea-a172-04f2378554d1 Sunak outlines a two-part plan for his tenure as prime minister

Adam Bradshaw

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