Tory MPs Ask Rishi Sunak "What's The Plan?" As He Prepares To Set Out Vision
Rishi Sunak is preparing to set out a more detailed vision for the country early next year as Conservative MPs are becoming impatient to find out what the Prime Minister wants to do with his power.
Sunak's first month in 10 Downing Street, which got underway in late October when he replaced Liz Truss, was bumpier than he would have been hoping for. The resignation of Sir Gavin Williamson as a Cabinet Office minister over bullying accusations, plus outrage sparked by his decision to reappoint Suella Braverman as Home Secretary just days after she quit for breaching the ministerial code, prompted early questions about Sunak's political judgement, as well as his "integrity".
However, since that rocky beginning it has been a distinctly quiet few weeks for the Prime Minister, especially in comparison to the chaos that defined the months leading up to his arrival in No 10, including an economic crash, questions over his wife's tax status and a revolving door of prime ministers.
One former secretary of state described Sunak's approach to averting any further scandals as "management by boredom".
There is a feeling among Conservative MPs that the Prime Minister is keen to maintain the calm within the party as the year draws to a close. Policy announcements have been few and far between, while on the contentious issues of house building and onshore wind development, Sunak has struck compromises with malcontent backbenchers to avoid the risk of rebellions.
"They don’t want us in the voting lobbies at the moment," said the same former Cabinet minister.
But Sunak's focus on keeping the government out of trouble seems to have eclipsed things it should be doing. Beyond repairing the Truss, war and Covid ravaged economy, it is not entirely clear what the Sunak agenda looks like at the moment.
One Tory MP told PoliticsHome they and their colleagues have been left wondering: "What's the plan?"
While they certainly welcome this period of stability, questions among MPs over what Sunak actually wants to achieve, and when they will get a clearer sense of his policy agenda, are becoming increasingly urgent as Labour continues to ride high in the polls, and the need for a general election, which must be called before the end of 2024, gets nearer.
Another former minister said this week that Sunak had entered office without a "fully-fledged" plan, having been put in Downing Street by Conservative MPs in extraordinary circumstances – namely the resignation of Truss after just 44 days in office.
PoliticsHome understands there are discussions taking place in Downing Street about Sunak setting out a detailed vision early in the New Year, in the run up to the Spring budget. Conservative MPs are also expecting Sunak to say more about his plan for the country soon after Christmas, describing it as "big vision" and "state of the nation" set piece. A No 10 source insisted there are currently no plans for a speech, however.
One policy which the new Prime Minister is currently preparing to talk about in greater depth in early 2023 is levelling up, PoliticsHome understands. No 10 has been carrying out polling on the issue in recent weeks as the government faces pressure to deliver on the flagship policy that was at the heart of its election-winning manifesto of 2019.
There is hope within government that global economic pressures will have started to abate by the time the Spring budget comes around, giving Sunak and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt more fiscal headroom to fund his plans for the country. An ex-Cabinet minister said Sunak should hold the budget early to give him as much momentum as possible heading into the May local elections.
One area where Sunak has undoubtedly made significant progress is repairing relations with Europe, particularly France – tested by Boris Johnson's approach to Brexit and put under further strain by Truss's refusal to say whether she felt French President Emmanuel Macron was a friend or foe to the UK during her leadership campaign. PoliticsHome understands that a planned summit involving Sunak and Macron is currently expected to take place in Paris before Spring.
This meeting could play a key part in negotiations over the Northern Ireland Protocol, with Sunak keen to finally reach an agreement with the European Union in time for the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement in April, when President Joe Biden is expected to visit the UK.
In his mission to keep the lid on the Tory party this side of Christmas, Sunak has succeeded.
But with Labour seeming increasingly confident that they can win the next election, the Prime Minister knows he cannot rely on civility alone in the New Year, and Conservative MPs are anxious to hear his plan for convincing the British public to give the party a fifth time in office.
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