Politics

All of Rishi Sunak's mistakes as prime minister so far

Economic stability ‘at heart of government agenda’, Rishi Sunak says

Rishi Sunak has been the prime minister for five weeks and four days.

It seems as good a time as any to do an appraisal of his time in power.

While he has almost outlasted his predecessor Liz Truss and not floundered through a global pandemic like the leader before them both, Boris Johnson, it would be an exaggeration to give him an A plus rating.

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Indeed, he has shown some serious errors in judgement, especially with the allies he has surrounded himself with and some boneheaded policy decisions.

Here's a few of his clangers so far.

His Cop flip-flop

When Sunak was invited to attend the annual Cop conference to discuss how to mitigate against the worst impacts of climate change, he said something like "nah, you're alright".

For legal reasons, we're not sure the language he used to decline the trip, which sees leaders from nations all over the world cooperate on green issues, but decline he did, causing outrage both domestically and abroad.

The issue became his first U-turn, barely weeks into his time in office, and he got on the plane to Egypt where it was hosted, despite the initial heel-dragging.

Here's the problem: U-turns never inspire confidence in the decisiveness in leaders and as attending the global summit is more of a no-brainer than a niche political issue, this evidenced a pretty flabbergasting lack of judgement.

Using a private GP

Perhaps he could have got a sick note from the conference. After all,The Guardian reported that the prime minister, whose job involves extolling the virtues of all state infrastructure, including the NHS, opts to go private when it comes to his healthcare.

Here's why this is a bad look. Firstly, it is like a chef not tasting their own food - it makes it look like the quality might not be up to scratch and doesn't make punters confident in it.

Secondly, it adds to the pervasive sense that Sunak is a man completely out of touch with ordinary people and therefore not capable of representing them as prime minister.

Basically, the optics are so bad, a state or private optician won't be able to fix them.

Cutting ties with the media

But we may soon hear less about these kind of stories.The Mirror reported that Sunak is reducing the time ministers spend talking to broadcast media in the morning to three days a week.

If he is trying to avoid negative coverage, it makes sense, but by ending conversations Sunak is effectively stopping politicians from having a right of reply. Journalists will still cover all the same issues but won't have access to ministers to explain themselves.

It ticks a lot of bad vibes boxes and failing to be held accountable gives an authoritarian creep that is pretty iffy.

It is also a bad thing to do because who wants to make a powerful enemy?

Hiring Gavin Williamson

Talking of enemies, Sunak may have made one in Williamson who had to resign from his government for behaving in a pretty nasty way.

First, expletive-ridden texts dropped showing him moaning to former chief whip Wendy Morton about not being invited to the Queen's funeral.

He wrote: “Also don’t forget I know how this works so don’t puss me about. Well, let’s see how many more times you fuck us all over. There is a price for everything.”

Further allegations emerged, including a Guardian report about a senior civil servant, who allegedly claimed that Williamson had told them to “slit your throat” while he was the defence secretary.

If you can't take the heat, they say, stay out of the kitchen. So Williamson did and resigned.

Could Sunak have seen this coming? He should have - the bloke has previous and has been booted out of just about every government he's been in because of a series of gaffes so profound, it is amazing he has the skills to tie his own shoelaces.

He's gone but the scars he has left on Sunak's premiership remain.

His handling of Dominic Raab allegations

Dominic Raab AFP via Getty Images

Dominic Raab is also facing bullying allegations and has, himself, called an inquiry into his behaviour.

The prime minister told journalists: “I don’t recognise that characterisation of Dominic and I’m not aware of any formal complaints about him. Of course there are established procedures for civil servants if they want to bring to light any issues. I’m not aware of any formal complaint about Dominic.”

Fair enough, but now there's an investigation into Raab these comments could come back to bite Sunak squarely on the bum.

If he is found to have been a bully and Sunak - who has worked with him for many years - really had no idea - he will look very silly, or deliberately misleading and his reputation will be dealt a blow.

It was a big gamble, then, and we are yet to see if it paid off.

His handling of the Suella Braverman allegations

The third cabinet member causing Sunak a headache is Suella Braverman, the home secretary.

A number of overlapping scandals are dogging her. She has been nicknamed "leaky Sue" due to allegations about her lax attitude to email security and admitted to breaching ministerial code - resigning from Truss's government because of it.

More allegations emerged following this and her reappointment to cabinet so it seemed off that Sunak had pardoned her for her sins.

Then it turned out her use of migration centres may have been problematic - one word, Manston - and her use of inflammatory language used to describe migrants has divided people.

It was a big mistake for Sunak to rehire such a loose cannon to the cabinet, and she will continue to cause problems for him in weeks and months to come.

Borrowing from Boris Johnson's playbook

But if you were to judge Sunak on his own, and not by the company he keeps you would find real failing there too.

From bellowing about "getting on with tough decisions" to using Jeremy Corbyn as a political punchline, it is clear that backstabbing aside, Sunak was rather enthralled with his former boss Johnson and therefore copies his style and tone almost every week during PMQs.

It would perhaps be forgiven in the first few sessions - everyone's allowed a mentor to learn - but a few weeks in we're disappointed we haven't seen his own style.

It is not as if Johnson had such an enviable style anyway - and for a man who promised, in his first comments as PM outside Downing Street, to lead with "integrity, professionalism and accountability" - it is a shame he has borrowed so heavily from Johnson's can of bluster and vacuous claims.

Not calling a general election

Whoever became the next PM would have been in this position but it is worth noting Sunak became the prime minister in perhaps the least democratic way possible. First, he lost the summer leadership election to Truss - something fewer than 200,000 people were eligible to vote in.
Undeterred by the voice of this tiny proportion of the British public rejecting him, he ran again, and as the chairman of the 1922 committee of backbench Tory MPs changed the rules seemingly on a whim and set a new threshold for nominations MPs had to get to further rounds in the contest, he was anointed by an ever smaller number of people - Tory MPs.
He didn't have to compete against anyone else because other MPs didn't get enough backers.
This has left him dripping with illegitimacy, unable to unite the nation who have become sick of the Tories playing musical chairs to decide the small matter of who runs the country.

It is a simple and fundamental principle that the government derives its democratic legitimacy from the people. The future of the country must not be decided by plotting and U-turns at Westminster; it must be decided by the people in a general election. And for this reason The Independent is calling for an election to be held. Have your say and sign our election petition by clicking here.

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