Rishi Sunak’s five promises analysed

Image source, PA Media

Rishi Sunak has pledged to halve inflation and bring down NHS waiting lists, as he set out a fresh vision for his premiership with five promises to voters.

In his first major speech of 2023, the prime minister promised to deliver “peace of mind” to the public, even as his government grapples with an NHS under severe pressure and a continuing wave of strikes.

So what are the political risks in his promises, and can the PM achieve what he’s said?

“First, we will halve inflation this year to ease the cost of living and give people financial security.”

The prime minister knows rising prices are one of the biggest challenges facing many families right now, so it’s not surprising he’s put this high up his priority list.

Some economists think inflation might already have peaked and the Bank of England has predicted it will fall midway through this year, so you can see why the prime minister feels able to make this pledge.

However, there will still be huge challenges for households, not least those facing higher mortgage payments because interest rates have gone up. The cost of living will undoubtedly be one of the issues that dominates Rishi Sunak’s premiership.

“Second, we will grow the economy, creating better-paid jobs and opportunity right across the country.”

Growth – remember that word from former PM Liz Truss’s time in office?

Growing the economy is something successive governments have tried to do – and made big promises about. There’s not much detail on exactly how this might be measured or by when, though when questioned the prime minister said he hoped to see the economy growing by the end of this year.

Politically it boils down to one thing: will people feel better or worse off at the time of the next election?

The government’s hope is that the country might be through the worst of the recession and feel like it’s on the up again, but after such a tough economic time for so many that’s not going to be easy to achieve.

“Third, we will make sure our national debt is falling so that we can secure the future of public services.”

Rishi Sunak has made getting control of the public finances one of his priorities since he took office. His first big economic statement alongside his chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, in the autumn outlined tough spending decisions and difficult choices.

However, huge government interventions at the height of the Covid pandemic and subsequent support with energy bills haven’t left a very rosy picture.

The thinking behind this pledge is likely to be the fact that Mr Sunak wants to have a reputation for economic credibility, particularly after the turmoil of the Truss government, in the belief that’s important to voters – particularly Conservatives.

Whether he can deliver – and by when – is another matter.

“Fourth, NHS waiting lists will fall and people will get the care they need more quickly.”

The NHS is undoubtedly one of the biggest challenges facing Mr Sunak’s government, so it’s no surprise it makes his list. He wants to show this is a priority for him in the face of critics who argue there’s been a lack of government action.

Given the current length of waiting lists and the wider pressures on the NHS, this isn’t going to happen quickly. But note the prime minister hasn’t put a firm time scale on his promise, instead outlining a gradual plan to reduce waiting times which allows him some scope.

He said he wanted to be held to account for delivering the pledges he has made – there’s little doubt that, on this one, he will be.

“Fifth, we will pass new laws to stop small boats, making sure that if you come to this country illegally, you are detained and swiftly removed.”

This is something Rishi Sunak has already said is a priority. He announced in December that the government would be bringing forward new legislation in 2023.

It’s something many Conservative MPs have repeatedly raised as a concern for their constituents, which is why it’s high up the to-do list.

Mr Sunak has already set targets to reduce the backlog of asylum cases this year – something that can be directly measured. Today he was asked by journalists to provide a clear target for stopping or reducing the number of small boats attempting to cross the Channel.

He didn’t, opting instead to outline the steps the government was taking to tackle the problem and stressing it was a priority. Proof, if you needed it, that setting measurable targets is always a political risk.

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