Rishi Sunak, as he began his new role as Prime Minister today, said
‘I will place economic stability and confidence at the heart of this government’s agenda.
This will mean difficult decisions to come.
But you saw me during Covid, doing everything I could, to protect people and businesses, with schemes like furlough.
There are always limits, more so now than ever, but I promise you this – I will bring that same compassion to the challenges we face today.
The government I lead will not leave the next generation – your children and grandchildren – with a debt to settle that we were too weak to pay ourselves.
I will unite our country, not with words, but with action.’
We might think that he’s trying to have his cake and eat it: difficult decisions, but compassion; present dangers but protection for future generations… Let’s face it, these dilemmas are always real, but in our current situation, this all sounds rather like a mixture of a warning and an alibi. The aspiration to unite the country sounds fine. But it comes from a representative of a party that has done more to divide this country than any I can remember, and which has itself been at war with itself for some time. The ideological divisions that, presumably, are the subjects of Sunak’s ‘promise’, are, of course, rife, within his party, and across post-Brexit Britain. But, first, they’re fuelled by, and, second, they pale into insignificance next to, the yawning gaps between the health and wellbeing, and the economic safety, of the richest and the poorest in the UK.
Economic stability and market confidence are, of course, important, as we have seen in recent weeks. But why no explicit reference to making the crisis facing the people of our increasingly wretched country the centre of his agenda? Nice to know that he’s compassionate, but is this man who didn’t know how to use a payment card until his recent PR campaign really in touch with, capable of being in unity with, the realities for the people of the UK?
I outlined some of what requires recognition, a strategy and a competently managed plan in my previous post ‘Lest we forget’, but here’s just a bit more detail on what requires Sunak’s recognition, urgent action – and, yes, compassion. He could have said that 90% of schools will, we have been told by the National Association of Head Teachers, run out of money by the next school year. Or that waiting lists for treatment in the NHS are at record and dangerous highs, staffing levels dangerously low, the whole system on the brink of collapse. There aren’t sufficient registered care homes for the most vulnerable of our children and young people – only one awful aspect of a long-neglected crisis in social care. Community services have crumbled. Small businesses are teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. Food banks are experiencing record demand – and being used by people who are in employment. The poorest, and the lower middle-income, sections of our society are facing crippling effects from the cost-of-living crisis.
It’s early days, but unless our new ‘leader’ explicitly accepts these and other alarming problems as his responsibility, and puts them at the centre of his agenda, we can have no confidence that our lived experience will change for the better. Or that his wish for unity is more than a slogan. He needs to be honest about, and engage us all in accepting the value of, the role of tax (as Chris argued yesterday). Otherwise, all we can look forward to is a rueful, helpless, expression of regret from a man compassionately watching (if he has eyes to see) as others suffer.
Mr Sunak, the children and grandchildren who you refer to in your pre-planned excuse for any failures to address today’s reality are here today, and need help today. This is the debt that needs repaying, now.