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MPs Left Wondering About Rishi Sunak's Agenda After Double Climbdown

Rishi Sunak leaves10 Downing Street for Prime Minister's Questions (Alamy)

2 min read

Rishi Sunak's decision to water down the government's house building proposals and reverse a ban on onshore wind has raised fresh questions about what the prime minister's plans for government might actually look like.

Since Sunak entered No 10 in September, the dust has finally settled following many months of chaos, with even some Conservative MPs who did not back his initial Tory leadership campaign now appearing to unite behind his government. 

But a climbdown from government on a key part of their plan to build more homes, followed by a rowback on onshore in the face of rebel pressure, shows dissent still bubbles below the surface, and puts further pressure on Sunak to set out what he actually intends to achieve in office.

One senior Conservative MP and former minister told PoliticsHome that Sunak was brought in by Tory MPs to repair the damage done to the economy by predecessor Liz Truss but beyond that, he didn't have a "fully fledged" policy agenda or "overarching strategy" for government.

"There have been a few policy problems," the MP, who backed Sunak to be party leader, said. 

The government is currently not expected to make any further major announcements before Parliament breaks up for the Christmas recess in two weeks' time.

A serving minister said the plan was to oversee a quiet few weeks before "ramping up" the policy announcements early next year in the run-up to the Spring budget.

Another former minister told PoliticsHome, they believed Sunak "doesn’t want any fights at the moment. That's why there are no new policies. He wants stability".

The Prime Minister's spokesperson sought to play down changes to the housing policy on Tuesday, telling reporters that building 300,000 homes a year by midway through the next decade remained the government's "goal" and an "important part" of the planning system.

Sixty Conservative MPs had signed an amendment calling for the mandatory target to be scrapped, posing a risk of a humiliating House of Commons defeat for the new Prime Minister on the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill.

“The locally agreed housing targets will remain in the planning system," the Prime Minister's spokesperson confirmed this morning. "We are consulting on how these can better take into account local character and other unique circumstances."

Nick Gibb, the education minister, insisted earlier today that the decision to strike a compromise with malcontent Conservative backbenchers was part of a "normal process", not a U-turn.

“You use the phrase U-turn, I use the phrase parliamentary democracy. This is the normal process," the minister told Sky News this morning. 

“It’s not a U-turn. You need to work with parliamentarians – they represent people in their communities. We want there to be community consent to building more houses.”

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