Rishi Sunak is exactly what our country needs to get us through this economic crisis
Bounced from one crisis to the next – a number entirely out of anyone’s control, but too many of our own making – the prophetic words of Robert McNamara, the United States secretary of defence for much of the turbulent 1960s, have rung true more often than I’d care to admit over the last twelve months.
“There is no longer such a thing as strategy, there is only crisis management.”
The irony, of course, is that, unlike many governments, both the Johnson and Truss administrations had bold long-term strategies and a sizeable majority to deliver them. The first, however, failed through a lack of discipline and focus, and the latter, by clumsily trialling economic theory at a time of great international uncertainty.
It is no secret that I am a strong supporter of Rishi Sunak. I was one of his earliest backers in the summer and I had no hesitation in supporting him again. While I have every confidence in the plan he’s set out, let’s not beat around the bush: the challenge facing the country is considerable, with the mountain to climb now much steeper than it was when he originally threw his hat into the ring in July. A promising start, though, has been made.
The urge to govern in campaign mode will be at its zenith but should, nevertheless, be resisted
It was right to admit that there have been mistakes (no politician should ever believe they are above contrition when damage has been done), and his commitment to telling people how it is, not how they wish it might be, shows real leadership. Undoubtedly, not everyone will like his message, which won’t always be popular, but no one can accuse him of not being straight with the country.
Detractors will inevitably accuse him of the sort unpatriotic “doomism” that was cynically attributed to his campaign in the summer, but in my book, this double dose of realism and frankness is exactly what the country requires. Indeed, I believe it is vital in rebuilding trust between voters and those of us elected to serve, which is in desperately short supply.
The decision to keep Jeremy Hunt in post as Chancellor is both sensible and popular among Conservative backbenchers and will be important in achieving the Prime Minister’s self-avowed number one priority: restoring confidence and securing economic stability. Having two reliable, competent and proven figures working in tandem behind the doors of No 10 and No 11 should calm the markets, as will the focus on demonstrating debt falling over the medium term as part of the upgraded Autumn Statement on 17 November. The key will be providing financial certainty - how can consumers be expected to plan, or businesses encouraged to invest, when they don’t have any confidence that the tax system will remain consistent one week to the next, let alone the following year?
As to what else will be included in the Chancellor’s statement, your guess is as good as mine. I would, however, have two broad asks. First, that we champion calm, pragmatic policy that is evidence-led rather than ideologically or personality driven. The absurd decision to scrap an information campaign to encourage people to cut energy consumption this winter, based purely on rigid dogma, is a case in point.
And second, let’s break the cycle of short-termism. Trailing well behind in the polls, and with a general election fast approaching, the urge to govern in campaign mode will be at its zenith but should, nevertheless, be resisted. Of course, every government must be nimble and look for quick wins. But we also have a responsibility to plan strategically for the long term, be it in our approach to foreign policy, energy security, housing or health. Let’s think compassionately in the now while keeping an eye on the future to strengthen the structures we bequeath our children and grandchildren.
If we can get even half of it right – which won’t be easy – we’ll have gone some way in proving McNamara wrong.
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