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Rishi Sunak’s pointless revolution The PM's speech epitomised Britain's worst excesses

Our first management consultant prime minister (OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)

Our first management consultant prime minister (OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)


October 5, 2023   5 mins

“I was not really in Manchester at all,” wrote J.B. Priestley after spending a few days in the city for the opening of a play in the early Thirties. “I was living in a private nightmare city, bounded in space by the Palace Theatre and the Midland Hotel.” This is largely how I felt at Conservative Party Conference this week: bounded in space between the absurd theatre on show inside the conference centre on one side and the ghastly reality of the Midland Hotel bar on the other, a sweaty scrum of lobbyists, hacks and wannabe Jacob Rees-Moggs competing for attention. Oh how I wish party conferences were scrapped entirely — and not just for my sanity, but for the health of the country.

It’s not just that party conferences have become grim experiences inaccessible to the ordinary person, devoid of any real energy or free thought. They are also tawdry symbols for the state of the nation itself, great fraudulent towers of bullshit designed to look good from the outside. At best, they are empty of any real substance; at worst, they are actively harmful to the country itself.

Consider three of the most prominent policies that shaped this gathering: HS2, Net Zero, and an end to A Levels. Each is a serious structural reform, sold as the policy of a serious man doing serious work. And yet each is a personal whim, the latest preference of the latest inhabitant in No. 10. It is an absurd way to run a country.

On HS2, Sunak has summarily executed a policy included in three consecutive Conservative manifestos, passed into law by a Conservative parliament, and backed by Sunak himself in his leadership campaign. And while scrapping a project of this magnitude with the stroke of a pen might well bring tangible savings, it also brings intangible costs. Anyone who has piled money into Birmingham or Manchester based on the assumption that HS2 would be built — as agreed in law — has been shafted. As for the wider population, why should anyone believe anything the Government says? The only rational assumption is to assume it, and the British state more generally, will go back on its word. A raft of new train lines and road improvements in its place? Pie in the sky.

And with only a year to go before an election that the Labour Party is expected to win, Sunak has promised a complete overhaul of the A-Level system. We have had 10 education secretaries in the past 13 years; we’ve had free schools under Michael Gove; exam results have changed from letters to numbers; and three years ago we got the “T Level” which yesterday was axed. Exactly the kind of swerving “trolley” government Boris Johnson’s removal was supposed to end.

The absurdity of this policy switcheroo has nothing on Net Zero, however. Here is the most revolutionary economic policy in at least a generation, something which will affect almost every aspect of our lives. And how was it approved? By statutory instrument with almost no debate. Many MPs who support Net Zero will privately admit that the way it was introduced was outrageous. Sunak last month criticised the way the policy was enacted “without any meaningful democratic debate about how we get there”. And yet yesterday he delivered one prime ministerial decree after another, all of which the voters must take on trust that he will deliver — even though similarly radical plans promised by all his predecessors often amounted to nothing.

There is an obvious presidentialism to Sunak in his governing style and technocratic confidence. Yet he is better understood as our first management consultant prime minister, utterly convinced of his own rational superiority and common sense. Look at the language he used in his conference speech: “I concluded it simply was not right”; “I am changing all of that”; “I am cancelling the rest of the project.” The man from Goldman Sachs looked at the books and made a decision — and we are all supposed to accept that this is how we are governed.

The Party’s dizzying number of about-turns over the past few years is not without consequence. Within the party, the different factions are now openly challenging each other for control of its future direction, aware that they are only ever one leader away from another sudden change.

Behind closed doors in Manchester, Tory MPs were in open disagreement about the direction the party needed to go. Was it for free markets or economic nationalism, staying in the ECHR or scrapping it, small-state libertarianism or old Tory moralism? More than that, few seemed able to agree on what story they had to tell of the past 13 years. Was it all part of three decades of cosy political consensus and failure, as Sunak suggested in his speech; one long era of Blairite supremacy, as some in the party now grumble? This, in effect, was the line Ed Miliband and Jeremy Corbyn once told of New Labour in reverse: a period of calamitous Thatcherite continuity. That didn’t work out so well. What seems clear from the feel of the conference and the tenor of Sunak’s speech is that we are heading towards a more robustly Thatcherite party in the truest sense: outwardly conservative on social issues, immigration and national sovereignty. And yet it also remains the party that left one part of the country under EU law.

It is hard not to feel cynical about the whole spectacle. What do all these conferences and prime ministerial declarations amount to? Within hours of his first — and potentially last — leader’s speech to conference, it turned out that Sunak’s education reforms are unlikely to amount to anything for a decade and that some of the great “Network North” to replace HS2 was either in the south or already built.

Away from Sunak’s Silicon Valley-syle unveiling, the big picture of the past 13 years is not that he is some great figure of revolution, but a cheap emblem of the entire era, just the latest in a long line to pull back the ambitions of the state being able to do anything. Sunak is the great reflection of the structural problems of our governing class and the grand economic challenges it is struggling to overcome.

Just look at the record: under Cameron, the country was promised a “Northern Powerhouse” with mass electrification of the rail network across the north. Under May, much of this was scrapped — to George Osborne’s fury. Then, under Johnson, we got levelling-up instead of the Northern Powerhouse, with government departments dotted across the Red Wall to no discernable strategic purpose or any great depth of support in the party. When Johnson went, so too did levelling up, a policy all but ignored by Truss whose own plans were quickly crushed by a national fragility she could not comprehend (and still can’t). Now, we have Sunak, who has rolled back Cameron’s grand promises even further — to make room for a whole series of new ones which will not happen.

For 13 years, Conservative Party leaders have traipsed up to one party conference after another attempting to spin the reality away: that we are a poor country where everything is expensive. At every turn, with each new PM, they have succeeded only in making things worse, deluded about their own unique wisdom, power and ability to shape the environment in which we operate. They promised national sovereignty and put a border down the Irish Sea; to reduce immigration only to let it double; and to stop the “chaos” threatened by Labour only to then turn around after 13 years and say they haven’t managed to change anything. Sunak has enough energy and arrogance to cause real problems for Labour over the next year or so and should not be ruled out politically. But that does not change the fact that, rather than challenge Britain’s state failure, his government by decree epitomises its worst excesses.

Britain has somehow contrived to produce a system with too much political power concentrated in a centre which is too weak to do anything meaningful with it. Walking around Manchester this week was a grim reminder of this paradoxical reality; the British state both distant and impotent; the city’s successes its own, but its future in someone else’s hands. “There was a time when Manchester was known as the ‘home of living causes’,” wrote Priestley back in 1934. “Exactly what living causes are finding a home there now I do not know.” The same seems true today. Outside of the South East, Manchester is the home of Britain’s great hope of economic success. Maybe it is also where it goes to die.


Tom McTague is UnHerd’s Political Editor. He is the author of Betting The House: The Inside Story of the 2017 Election.

TomMcTague

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Kirk Susong
Kirk Susong
9 months ago

“For 13 years, Conservative Party leaders have traipsed up to one party conference after another attempting to spin the reality away: that we are a poor country where everything is expensive.”
Is that really the problem? This sentiment captures, in my opinion, the fundamental misunderstanding, shared by this author and many other political commentators in the UK.
The UK’s economic problems appear superficially to be technical problems – monetary choices, international trade agreements, industrial policy, etc. But underneath, at root, they are cultural problems.
A country that should be applauded for welcoming the poor and dispossessed from around the world, instead doubts whether it has welcomed them well enough…. A country that should be applauded for exporting the rule of law, human rights, modern standards of hygiene and education, etc., instead wonders if those exports were unduly coercive…. A country that should be applauded for sacrificing blood and gold to stop totalitarian regimes, minority oppression, slavery, etc., instead wonders if its sacrifices were all actually self-interested….
Why has every country in the West been riven by an onslaught of national self-doubt? Why is the UK undergoing a moral reckoning not unlike what Germany confronted in the post-war era? Was the Empire really as bad as the Nazis? (No.)
This needn’t be a Conservative issue; there have been plenty of national patriots on all sides of the domestic aisle in the history of the UK. But it will take a politician of courage and charisma to rewrite the false narratives, to wake the country from its coma.

Last edited 9 months ago by Kirk Susong
Nell Clover
Nell Clover
9 months ago
Reply to  Kirk Susong

“We” are poor though. That enormous current account deficit we’ve run for more than a generation was indirectly funded by sales of assets to overeseas investors. These overseas investors draw income from their investments, compounding the current account deficit and need for asset sales. Even your mortage is likely owned by an overseas investor.
The underlying problem though is capital creation. The UK has created few new assets (e.g., companies) compared to the USA, and this is the difference between overseas investment pushing an economy forward and overseas investment draining an economy of wealth by rent seeking. The UK has sold what its got and not replenished the capital account with new assets – unlike the USA.
The result is capital formation in the UK is now mostly controlled by overseas investors. It means capital investment in civil infrastructure often needs major inducements (that are detrimental to the wider economy), and the revenues are repatriated overseas. These are hallmarks of developing economies.
The sugar rush of consumption funded by the sell-off of assets has masked the worsening long-term economic prospects of the UK. The prognosis for most nations in the EU is similar.
This is one reason why immigration is promoted. The UK sells consumers so more people equals more consumers. Even as per capita GDP sinks, adding more people will prop up consumption and so support total GDP. Is it sustainable? No. Does it fix the immediate problem? Sort of. Does it get someone through the next round of the electoral cycle? Yes.

Last edited 9 months ago by Nell Clover
Geoffrey Kolbe
Geoffrey Kolbe
9 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

Very nice analysis.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
9 months ago
Reply to  Geoffrey Kolbe

Mr Clover is invariably on point and relevant. Unherd should have him as a contributor

Jeff Butcher
Jeff Butcher
9 months ago

Forgive me but I think
Mr Clover is actually a Ms Clover. And yes, very much on point. What to do though? Learn how to farm?

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
9 months ago
Reply to  Jeff Butcher

My poor eye sight. I read Nell as Neil. In answer to your question buy a farm in New Zealand if you can or Cornwall if you can’t

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
9 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

It is easy to overlook poverty if you are filthy rich, as Sunak is, and the other capital and overseas rent-seeking issues you mention have been engineered by people just like him in the City of London’s investment banks.
The Tories no longer are the Party of business other than banking.
Few of the current crop are competent to run the proverbial whelk stall and fewer have the experience of a hands-on business.

Last edited 9 months ago by UnHerd Reader
Walter Marvell
Walter Marvell
9 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

Yes Neil. Uniparty politicians have since the Blair Revolution spent 30 years disabled the one dynamic that offers prosperity – enterprise and wealth creation – which had been bequeathed by Thatcher. The Blairite System was supposed to build up the State and Public Sector in parallel with Enterprise. But that Way crashed in 2008. They have now played every conceibale card to inject supposed growth and all have failed – all are destructive bubbles. First QE & Bailout Magic Money. Then the Property Bubble. And then mass uncontrolled immigration of 8m which has smashed all those public services into failure and emergency measures. There are no more levers to pull. The Game is up. The greedy Blob State is ravenous and demands ever greater taxes, making the UK a desert for entrepreneurs and wealth creators. This is why all politicos noises are so trite and irrelevant. We are hurling along this high speed line – but the track has not been laid.

John Riordan
John Riordan
9 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

I’ve read something online similar to what you say in your first paragraph, namely that the massive expansion of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) under George Osborne was fatally flawed because due to our EU membership at the time, the standard FDI conventions relating to head office functions, local economy trade etc were treated as EU-wide rather than UK wide. What this means is as follows: if foreign money buys a company in a particular nation, there are conventions that say that the business must maintain a minimum level of executive operation in that nation, and the existing trading relationships with other domestic companies must be preserved to a certain extent.

In the case of the UK’s post-2010 FDI, it was perfectly acceptable for an EU corporation to buy out a UK manufacturer, shut down all head office functions and cease all local trading relationships, turning the UK operation into nothing more than a warehouse for products and services now manufactured abroad, and using frictionless capital flows to repatriate all the profits to the foreign investors.

This actually happens in the EU a lot generally not just the UK but because most of the rest of where this happens is in the Eurozone, it doesn’t matter that capital is flowing out of one region and appearing in another – not, at least, from the perspective of the EU as a whole. In the UK, because it was never in the Eurozone, this defective FDI system eventually resulted in up to ÂŁ20bn capital outflow per year, which sum must be compensated for in either borrowing or further FDI asset sales.

What I don’t know is whether or not this defective FDI system was fixed as part of the Withdrawal Agreement. I doubt it, given the persistent mess our public finances are in, but I could be wrong.

Last edited 9 months ago by John Riordan
Simon Blanchard
Simon Blanchard
9 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

“The UK sells consumers”. By god I think you’ve hit the nail on head. Through this lens, everything about our predicament makes sense. We’ve been utterly sold out.

Peter Kwasi-Modo
Peter Kwasi-Modo
9 months ago

It is a great quote. I can hardly wait to start plagiarising it. Many thanks to Ms Clover.

Kirk Susong
Kirk Susong
9 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

This reminds me of the complaint in the US when the Japanese bought Rockefeller Center. The Japanese owned a NY landmark, but the Rockefellers owned billions of dollars that had been Japanese before – and it turned out to be a great deal for the Rockefellers and a bad deal for the Japanese. The relevant question is what laws, principles, instincts, etc. govern the way those foreign dollars are spent.
While I don’t take issue with your analysis of the economic situation, I think you are either deliberately or inadvertently disregarding my point. If you get a bunch of Malaysians building residential blocks in London, they are spending more here than UK investors were willing to spend! But what does the UK do with their pounds? And the answer to that – the answer to why the UK has squandered the economic interest of foreigners – resolves to the grand national self-doubt that I outlined.
Is protecting the environment the key thing the UK needs to do? (No.) Is ensuring ‘equity’ for all immigrants the key thing the UK needs to do? (No.) Is forcing skilled tradesmen into sociology degrees the key thing the UK needs to do? (No.) All these ‘luxury concerns’ are born of disregarding what made Britain successful in the Age of Industry and Expansion – unfettering the economic potential of the bourgeois, releasing the great wealth of talent in the middle class from the limits of feudalism, through the rule of law, free markets, and the govt getting out of the way.
What has happened is that the talented middle has been re-shackled by feudal bonds, but the titled grandees are no longer called ‘Duke’ or ‘Earl’ but ‘Planning Officer’ and ‘Equity Administrator’ and ‘NHS Manager’ and the like. This is, I think, a cultural issue, not an economic one.
Or, to put it in terms more sympathetic to your comment, the UK is indeed ‘selling consumers’ – ie, serfs. But the govt cannot liberate these serfs… govt power can only *make* serfs, or one sort or another. The way out of this consumer-miasma is to get the govt the heck out of the way. Where is the Iron Lady when we need here?

Last edited 9 months ago by Kirk Susong
Graham Thorpe
Graham Thorpe
9 months ago
Reply to  Kirk Susong

What an intelligent insight (together with the original post). Some amazingly thoughtful pieces “below the line” on this major issue. I do wonder, though, how those who govern us seem collectively to be so blind to this narrative.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
9 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

The US has many advantages, and its huge achievement was to mak the difference on the grand scale between living in relatively free societies and a totalitarian domination.

However it is currently a highly polarised dysfunctional disaster area, where also much public infrastructure is decrepit

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
9 months ago
Reply to  Kirk Susong

This is so well put. To have a country, the people living in the country need to be proud of the country and it’s history. The UK has plenty to be proud of, including gifting the world with the best science and the best literature. As for the Empire, it was a force for good. Where would India be today but for the institutions that were gifted to India by the British.

Kirk Susong
Kirk Susong
9 months ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

Agreed… though I’m not sure I’d use the word “gifted”! Without a doubt Britain conquered India through military and economic force or threats of same. But – and here’s the part no one seems able to understand – this was a net positive (not an unalloyed one!) for the conquered people.

Last edited 9 months ago by Kirk Susong
Thoughts Anonymous
Thoughts Anonymous
9 months ago
Reply to  Kirk Susong

The problem is that Europe was permitted to rule itself every time they tried to conquer us up until H*tler went further than most.

If your civilisation was conquered by the British, made to lose its culture in favour of superior British mores, required to feel grateful for that inability to resist, and then crushed repeatedly in uprisings, you might feel that you were useless, that your history did not matter. Take a look at independent post-Napoleonic France, and that thought is reinforced. Traditional enemies of Britain accorded more privileges than your civilisation by virtue of being more civilised.

If you have no faith in your nation… isn’t that the same as what you say in your post? How can the nation exist in light of (well meaning and kindly) colonial era-wokeness emphasising your pointlessness?

Thus you might migrate to Britain. No point staying in a useless nation in which you can have no faith.

I do wonder if some 3rd world peoples are actually experiencing the same loss of confidence as us, and so they come here. They give up on their own nationhood, subsumed to a local variant of wokeness.

Our own people, subsumed in guilt, let them in.
How can people feel pride in the empire and have that coexist alongside our 19th century tolerance of European regimes? How can 3rd world peoples square that gratitude with their endless failures? How can we make sure their despair doesn’t translate to a trek to Britain?
“Just feel proud” is too simplistic, I fear.

Burton Tallen
Burton Tallen
9 months ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

Ah, yes, spoken like a perfectly uppity Brit.

Phineas
Phineas
9 months ago
Reply to  Kirk Susong

True Britain like Canada where i live has a huge guilt complex driven by universities and in Canada by Trudeau and his so called liberals deep into woke and calling peopls they and we!. Britain should stop the whinging and be proud of its welcoming of so many immigrants and of its history as a colonial power which brought democacy education, infrastructure and medical systems to so many countries. OK, silly to leave the EU, immature and self-defeating having taken so long to go in..blame Cameron and silly Johnson. hey UK, grow up!

Pete Rogers
Pete Rogers
9 months ago
Reply to  Kirk Susong

Dear Nell,
Careful, you are falling for a three-card trick concerning British morality and Justice.
A way of putting is to think as a person realising that it was some kind of Flashman toady who wrote Tom Brown’s Schooldays. The dastardly idea being to comfort us (and we desire to be comforted otherwise all is fear) so we were happy to read that things were going in the right direction even though it was and remained always cruelty that won, unbeknownst to us, whilst we interpret the world otherwise for comfort reasons – the need to fit in featuring strongly as we fear the vulnerability to being disliked if we stand out.
Look at Julian Assange. The system easily got the population to hate him and the reason for that is the same as Tom Brown – the population needs to hide from reality and the system needs them to need to hide so they won’t get in its way.
Rather than argue with people who have been effortlessly caused to decide that Assange was not a brave publisher taking on the evils of power after all, but a sex-creep and dangerous spy exposing our brave boys to danger, let me ask “How did the mass atrocities revealed by Chelsea Manning evaporate from public consciousness?”
Anyone who turns their back or whistles at the ceiling whilst victims are being created are unworthy of their own respect, but the cultural norm has no concept of this. We are a shameful society with shameful politicians for that reason alone.
Where are the grown-ups who realise they have a responsibility to defend their fellows?
That’s the magic of mind control. Ask yourself about British Justice when a remand prisoner is kept under conditions of torture (c.f. Nils Meltzer (UN Rapporteur on torture) The Trial of Julian Assange)
The thing is that if the system wants you got, then you will bel got you whilst the deluded public watch and then comfort themselves with copies of Tom Brown’s Schooldays – so to speak – it’s illusion.
The State Commits Crimes and you are to turn the other way. That is the reality.
Anyone who is content to believe mainstream culture will feel free and will not understand why others don’t, but if you expose the truth, difficult as that is, you will be in big trouble and with the approval of the tranquilised public.
Big Brother is here and has been for a long time. Wake up and be a man – or woman – if not you will dream until you die happy and pointless.

Last edited 9 months ago by Pete Rogers
Gandydancer x
Gandydancer x
8 months ago
Reply to  Kirk Susong

“A country that should be applauded for welcoming the poor and dispossessed from around the world, instead doubts whether it has welcomed them well enough
.”

Really? WHO feels that way about it? What silo do you live in where you think THAT is the way Britain feels?

ï»żNo, it shouldn’t be applauded for doing something so stupid and self-destructive.  And a Conservative Party that has been complicit it in deserves to be despised, and is despised.

Dylan Blackhurst
Dylan Blackhurst
9 months ago

Where do we go from here?!

A Tory leader that even the Tories didn’t want (let’s not forget they chose Truss originally).

Scrapping HS2, a project that many said was a farce at the outset, has finally delivered on that by not being completed.

Another tinkering with education?! What is it with governments and education?! Is it part of the Prime Minister Must Leave Lasting Legacy Handbook?

I suppose it’s better than embarking on a war, although weirdly we are funding one so I guess that counts too!

And worst of all, our alternative is Sir Keir, Lammy, Rayner and their own band of lunatics. Although with Labour we do get the opportunity to see them find a spot for Eddie Izzard complete with dress, fake boobs and lipstick. Oh the grim pantomime of it all.

Good grief. Is this it?! Is this really the best we can come up with?!

Helen Nevitt
Helen Nevitt
9 months ago

Well if you’re either truly Labour, ie, helping the ordinary person live a decent life or truly Conservative, ie, letting people get on with a decent life without sticking an oar in, you could always join the SDP.

Last edited 9 months ago by Helen Nevitt
Dylan Blackhurst
Dylan Blackhurst
9 months ago
Reply to  Helen Nevitt

If they have a candidate I may well vote for them.

I find our two main parties are now so depressing. Both appear achingly dull and weirdly grotesque all in the same moment. That’s quite an achievement.

The dishonesty on both sides is breathtaking.

Simon Blanchard
Simon Blanchard
9 months ago
Reply to  Helen Nevitt

After electoral reform I may well. But first the organised crime group currently in office must be wiped out.

Nell Clover
Nell Clover
9 months ago

Who has piled money into Manchester on the basis of HS2 being built? It wasn’t scheduled to open before 2041 and its “most likely” project forecast date of opening was 2043. No one is investing on the basis of a new railway line opening 20 years from now.

Last edited 9 months ago by Nell Clover
Karen Arnold
Karen Arnold
9 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

Good point, no one running any business will be planning that far ahead.

Alan Halsall
Alan Halsall
9 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

Absolutely correct.HS2 in any event assisted London’s growth more than Manchester or Birmingham’s.
Disappointed PM did not talk more about his plans for NHS or social welfare reform nor why we had to have soviet style targets on EV car sales but if he has the courage to take on vested interests it’s a good start

Frances Killian
Frances Killian
9 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

As a resident of Greater Manchester I know of precious few local HS2 supporters whose enthusiasm for this pointless vanity project survived the prospect having swathes of the south of the city paralysed for the next 10 years with construction traffic. Not just inconvenient but fatal for many local businesses.

Even if the massive hole from the airport to the city centre was successfully created the other end of the line is in the suburbs of London. And all for what? The current train service takes a little over 2 hours and at full price is not cheap. Heaven only know what the high speed tickets would be for a slightly faster but hugely more inconvenient service. Well done Rishi for being brave enough to face reality in this instance.

After our reckless spending of borrowed money in the past few years (also partly down to Rishi),, we face increasingly high interest rates and this waste of taxpayers’ money cannot be sustainable. It will never provide any value to the north, what money is affordable would be best spent improving local infrastructure.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
9 months ago

This is refreshing. Someone even more cynical and jaded than me.

Kieran P
Kieran P
9 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

He’s just a realist.

Susan Grabston
Susan Grabston
9 months ago
Reply to  Kieran P

Perhaps i can join those 2 ideas up. My father always taught me thst a cynic is a realist with experience.

Dominic A
Dominic A
9 months ago
Reply to  Susan Grabston

Here’s another – a depressive is a frustrated romantic.

Charles Savage
Charles Savage
9 months ago
Reply to  Dominic A

And an expert? “Ex” is an unknown quantity and “spert” a drip under pressure.

Carl Valentine
Carl Valentine
9 months ago
Reply to  Susan Grabston

The cynic is the optimists realist!

Peter Kwasi-Modo
Peter Kwasi-Modo
9 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

You can never be too rich or too cynical, to misquote the Duchess of Windsor.

Peter Kwasi-Modo
Peter Kwasi-Modo
9 months ago

When Sunak tries to sound sincere, the timbre of his voice is eerily reminiscent of Tony Blair’s voice when Blair tried to sound sincere.

René Descartes
René Descartes
9 months ago

That might be because people who are trying to sound sincere sound like people who are trying to sound sincere.

Peter Kwasi-Modo
Peter Kwasi-Modo
9 months ago

Hi RenĂ©, There are various strategies for feigning sincerity. There is the Rob Ford (crack-smoking Toronto mayor) approach of sounding super-belligerent. There is Bill Clinton approach: when he denied having sex with Ms Lewinsky, or when he said that he didn’t inhale, he exaggerated the folksy Arkansas drawl. Then there is the Richard Nixon approach, e.g. the “little dog” speech: he dropped the register right down.
By contrast, the Sunak/Blair ploy is almost the exact opposite of the Nixon approach and the Clinton approach. Sunak and Blair constrain the throat to up the register, to make themselves sound innocent of the wicked ways of this world.

Glyn R
Glyn R
9 months ago

Peas from the same globalist pod.

Paul T
Paul T
9 months ago

No mention of the ÂŁ150bn a year deficit bequeathed in 2010.
No mention of Covid.
No mention of Ukraine.
No mention of the scourge of identity politics.
No mention of the capture of institutions by the identitarians.
No mention of politicised, elitist, strike-shroud-waving dressed up as concern for “our NHS”.
Just sarcastic partisan nonsense masquerading as political commentary.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
9 months ago
Reply to  Paul T

They’ve had 13 years to fix these problems, they haven’t managed a single one.
I’m sick of hearing how the Tories would have led us to utopia, if it wasn’t for those meddling civil servants. If Blair can work out to stuff it full of ideological bedfellows, why is it seemingly beyond the mental capacity of the Conservatives to do the same? If you’ve been in power for over a decade and can’t point to a single policy win then you deserve to be routed at an election.

Paul T
Paul T
9 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

They had 13 years to fix Covid and the war in Ukraine? I must have missed that.

Kl C
Kl C
9 months ago
Reply to  Paul T

Re Covid: they canned to Pandemic preparedness programme – that had been in development for years – just before the covid pandemic came into being; so yes they did have 13 years to fix a covid like situation and they crashed it!

John Riordan
John Riordan
9 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

It’s much easier to find civil servants who will go along with a bloated, expensive public sector that will provide lots of jobs and power for the civil servants in question. A traditional Tory government finds the equivalent trick much harder because it is effectively like looking for turkeys who’ll vote for Christmas.

Paul Howard
Paul Howard
9 months ago
Reply to  Paul T

Agreed. You might also have mentioned the years wasted by Parliament’s obstructive behaviour following the EU referendum.

Chipoko
Chipoko
9 months ago
Reply to  Paul T

But he mentioned a total ban on smoking tobacco! The Tory leader has got his proirities right (not!).

John Galt Was Correct
John Galt Was Correct
9 months ago

Never ending chaos is what the ‘Conservative’ party brings. Before somebody lobs the trope of ‘so you think Labour will be better’, no I don’t. That’s the problem, no good options.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
9 months ago

This is what politics is all about. Different factions fighting for their own solution to the country’s economic and social ills. The same applies to the opposition parties. What is the alternative? A one party state with no opposition where the great leader enforces his solutions up to and beyond breaking point?

The approach is undoubtedly chaotic and the wrong sort of people tend to make the wrong choices but it is the least worst system currently available.

Susan Grabston
Susan Grabston
9 months ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Since a period of stsaeism appears inevitable given capital constraints, a soft debt default, and a post cheap oil commodity environment, we had best be csreful the Dear Leader we elext.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
9 months ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

That was my take on the article. I read about the u-turns, the flip-flops, the spin, the different warring factions within the same party…and just thought: “how is this different to any other democratic country?”
There is no doubt that the British state is in a dire condition and could work a lot better…but a lot of the complaints lodged in this article are bugs of the democratic system: they are not unique to the British state.

Sam Brown
Sam Brown
9 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

IMO what was seen at conference was a long overdue recognition that for far too long politicians have not been prepared to grasp some key nettles, slaughter some holy cows, for fear of offending what are now known as the WOKE, of being labelled all kinds of “ists” and because it was thought doing so would not be very British and make us look bad on the world stage. As a result we have had years and years of standards slipping, post-truths being allowed to infiltrate the national conversation, the civil service, the education system and seen everything that most in the country hold dear being diluted and corrupted by a globalist liberal narrative. All the time the populace, who in general are a commonly sensible lot, have been silently praying for someone to raise a signal that they recognised the folly of inaction. This, in a small way Rishi, and his strong multi-racial team, has done and whoever gains power in future needs to follow through and get the country back on course and believeing in itself again. Out with the WOKERY and pseudoscience that has infected so many areas of life; in with common sense British values, personal responsibility, intolerance of crime, shirking and social disruption and incentives for personal and corporate enterprise and the family and an intolerance of those who don’t buy into being British.

mike otter
mike otter
9 months ago
Reply to  Sam Brown

If it wasn’t for “wokery” and pseudo-science Labour couldn’t exist. What you see is what you get.

mike otter
mike otter
9 months ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

UK et al have had a one party, one ideology state since John Major in 1991 – they are called “globalists” or “WEF ‘droids” or whatever epithet you choose. They do as they’re told yet their media displays “these are our policies, if you don’t like them we have others”

Saul D
Saul D
9 months ago

What we’re seeing is a huge conservative pivot. It’s like they have just realised they have much more freedom of action post-Brexit. They’re not tied to shadowing the EU policywise (surprising that it’s take this long mind). And from that anything is now possible – eg dropping the triple-lock on pensions. Too little too late? Or crazy time on policies? Possibly both, not least because it also pretty clear that they are quietly panicking at the government’s parlous financial state (council bankruptcies, pension cuts, hiring freeze – probably to be followed by cuts, HS2 cancellation). But by reversing course, they are busting out of the Westminster paperbag of policy ‘norms’ which may allow more imagination to be applied going forwards.

Alfred Wiffen
Alfred Wiffen
9 months ago
Reply to  Saul D

This might sound convincing, if there was any evidence of the current leadership having any imagination. I haven’t seen any.

Malcolm Webb
Malcolm Webb
9 months ago

Many truths in this eviscerating article. Sunak the Management Consultant Prime Minister being one of them – and he’s not even good at that. He shuffles deckchairs on the deck of the sinking ship whilst we the hapless passengers desperately hope that the rescue and salvage team will show up before we go under.

Last edited 9 months ago by Malcolm Webb
UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
9 months ago

Geez lighten up. I’m not a hug fan of Sunak and it would take a miracle for me to vote Tory again at the next election but this feels like someone with an axe to grind.

Scrapping a monumentally wasteful infrastructure project that nobody wanted up until last week? What a monster!

Crafting policies around what he believes would be good for the country? The arrogance! Anyone would think he’s the Prime Minister!

John Riordan
John Riordan
9 months ago

Although I’m no fan of Sunak’s Tories, I think this article is overly harsh and misses a crucial issue on both HS2 and Net Zero, namely that since neither of these agendas were ever the subject of genuine democratic choice or debate and that they were only kept alive politically because of that, Sunak can hardly be criticised for killing them off through executive fiat.

The reality is that both these stupid, pointless public policies could readily be seen as unworkable and worthless even on a high-level look at the numbers. If Sunak has made a decision based on the numbers instead of the politics then he is the first decision-maker to actually make a fiscally correct decision in respect of them. The fact that both carry vocal political opposition is irrelevant: the people shouting and complaining are wrong, and have been visibly and obviously wrong for some time.

Last edited 9 months ago by John Riordan
Geoffrey Kolbe
Geoffrey Kolbe
9 months ago

The word “presidential” was the key here. What happened to a Cabinet with joint responsibility and the Prime Minister just the first amongst equals? The answer, I fear, is that it is no longer possible (for any party) to populate the Offices of State with MPs who have the experience, aptitude and skill to run a Department. The PM’s office is forming all the policy itself and there is no proper scrutiny or thinking through the consequences.

Kirk Susong
Kirk Susong
9 months ago
Reply to  Geoffrey Kolbe

It was a little distracting because ‘Presidential’ in the US means being subject to a host of checks-and-balances that the PM is not subject to. While the UK has moved closer and closer to a separation-of-powers system like the US, the PM still has way more power over the national agenda than does the President.

Mike Doyle
Mike Doyle
9 months ago

At least he’s tryng to kill off HS2, a monster with more lives than Freddy Krueger.

Karen Arnold
Karen Arnold
9 months ago
Reply to  Mike Doyle

This seems to be the project that many commenters didn’t want until it is actually scrapped, suddenly scrapping it seems to be a bad policy. This does seem to be a case of the government always being in the wrong in some eyes.

Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden
9 months ago

Rather Puritan and meddling, though he is right to divert the bullet train money to local services.
For my tuppence, I reckon his wife would cut taxed rather than raise them to cripple large sections of the British economy already paying a high cost for the proxy war.

Chipoko
Chipoko
9 months ago

The Tory Party is awash with Woking Class enthusiasts who have embedded this evil at every level in British institutions – political, governmental, educational, corporate, managerial, medical, etc., etc.

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
9 months ago
Reply to  Chipoko

Under normal circumstance this comment could be discounted as a grumpy old man yelling at the clouds – but unfortunately this kind of random screaming is now official Tory policy. Not that it matters since they will be gone soon enough and left to the tender care of Suella Braverman and other assorted nutters.

Chipoko
Chipoko
9 months ago

The only nutter evident in this discussion is you!

Albireo Double
Albireo Double
9 months ago

For this ex Party member of the Conservatives, the real brain bender is that despite the absolutely catastrophic decay of the party, it’s not impossible that it might, just, win yet another term in office.
This speaks volumes about our political class. It lies in the gutter, while still managing to look down on everyone – as it descends inexorably from the gutter to the sewer, where it really belongs.

Last edited 9 months ago by Albireo Double
John Turnbull
John Turnbull
9 months ago

I so wish that we had the humility to learn from others. Having lived for several years in Switzerland I would hope that we would look there to see how to do decentralisation and appreciate its advantages.

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
9 months ago

Issues with a horizon beyond 5 years need cross-party debate and agreement. Unfortunately we have politicians who refuse to do this in the hope that will have an enormous budget with which to play with their friends.

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
9 months ago

He’s toast and he knows it. This time next year he’ll be relaxing on a California beach while the nutters fight it out for what is left of the Tory party.
The funniest (and saddest) part is watching them try to find someone else to blame for the last 13 years – utterly pathetic.

Last edited 9 months ago by Champagne Socialist
Burton Tallen
Burton Tallen
9 months ago

Hold on now, Sunak is a banker and hedge fundie, not a management consultant. Let’s keep this stuff straight.

Citizen Diversity
Citizen Diversity
9 months ago

Unfortunately, the great fraudulent towers of bullsh*t are not empty of any substance. They are so brimming full of just one substance that it must be why the water companies (aka sh*t companies) are having to pour so much of the bovril into Britain’s rivers.
Just as the water companies are too full of debt to nationalise, so the tower is too full of The Substance that not even Hercules with the assistance of Flash Gordon could cleanse it.
If, among the many towers that populated his world, Tolkien had included the Tower of Sh*t in the Land of Cr@p it would be the most noisome of all, spewing pestilence and miasma, the source of noxious gases that gave life to every will-o’-the-wisp.
From atop the Tower, the Wizard would speak of opportunities that heaping up more dung affords and the Weather-prophetess issue her predictions that were stale news in another age of Middle Earth.
Instead of combating the Tower as was his wont, the warrior Faragorn joins it, hoping to turn it into a tower of violets. Whereas there’s more likelihood of Father Christmas in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe converting to Islam and King Peter fighting for Putin than the Tory Tower becoming ‘a proper conservative party’.

Robbie K
Robbie K
9 months ago

He certainly loves a strawman. I was never convinced with the choice of Sunak but felt he could step up, listening to him now with his vision of ‘change’ and new way of governing is just a hefty dose of face/palm. He’s created a path certain to lead to defeat.

Dylan Blackhurst
Dylan Blackhurst
9 months ago
Reply to  Robbie K

I wouldn’t be so sure of that defeat. Look at what he’s up against. Really look at it. It’s abysmal.

Robbie K
Robbie K
9 months ago

No need to look very hard, I certainly can’t disagree with that. Yet somehow even Starmer seems to have more credibility according to the polls.

Alka Hughes-Hallett
Alka Hughes-Hallett
9 months ago

It doesn’t matter who steps in and out of leadership, UK is a fantastic place to live by any standards. These problems as the author called them are just typical of a rich country trying to overachieve and have grand plans and outraged citizens fat from having every conceivable comfort and benefit that the system can provide, are so complacent and intolerant that even if policies have no effect on them, they have a view, usually negative and look to blame someone, anyone, everyone.
So what if Sunak is going back on the HS2 promise- sometimes after passing of some time, it’s not justifiable to continue in that direction. So mid game, perhaps different tactics needs to employed.
This country has only Chiefs , No followers. The better thing to do would be allow a leader to show his/her vision, their party to get behind them and the citizens to make effort to show support at least to start with.

The country voted for Boris. Why? Even after Covid policies disaster? I was shocked. Perhaps everyone got spooked by the opposition leadership.

At least Now a new person (definitely a more honourable person) is in control, he is aeons better than his predecessor. But he cannot please everyone. So long as he does right by the majority who need help, I don’t really mind if he changes his mind repeatedly as long as the focus is trying to do right by the most needy people and steering this country onwards and upwards.

Kirk Susong
Kirk Susong
9 months ago

I can’t endorse everything you’ve written but this rang true: “These problems… are just typical of a rich country trying to overachieve and have grand plans and outraged citizens fat from having every conceivable comfort and benefit that the system can provide….”
Ultimately, the UK remains one of the world’s richest and most successful societies. It had better not squander the legacy prior generations have gifted it. ‘Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations’ applies to countries as much as to families. Anybody been to Argentina lately?

Last edited 9 months ago by Kirk Susong
Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
9 months ago

HS2 was bonkers, and needed to be abandoned.

James Kirk
James Kirk
9 months ago

Like an impoverished student’s car failing the MoT, buying the same old model and keeping the old one for spares. Sunak is car One. Car Two has a few month’s MoT left and the guy who sold it had a mate at the garage.

j watson
j watson
9 months ago

The pre-ordained, inexorable conclusion of 13 years Populist Right Wing struggles with its own contradictions.
13 years of scapegoating others too, with that theme paradoxically and shamelessly accelerating the longer they stay in power. Utterly utterly pathetic and embarrassing. A Govt full of people who want to make out they haven’t been in power. Dire.
But what was slightly refreshing was reading all this on UnHerd. This lot in power and their supporters been heard for too long.

Bob Pugh
Bob Pugh
9 months ago
Reply to  j watson

If you think the Tory party is “populist and right wing” you are deluded. There is not a fag paper between them and Starmers staggerers.

j watson
j watson
9 months ago
Reply to  Bob Pugh

They’ve been running round spouting Populist slogans for 13yrs my friend.
I fear you are like the old Communist blaming the Politburo for not being communist enough.

TheElephant InTheRoom
TheElephant InTheRoom
9 months ago

I had my doubts about Sunak, but for a tiny bloke he does have a set of stones.

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
9 months ago

He’s not as irretrievably stupid as his predecessors I suppose

Alan Thorpe
Alan Thorpe
9 months ago

Why go to the conference if you believe the should not be held. Who in their right mind believes promises from a politician especially about something they will deliver at some future data. We should remember Chamberlain claiming peace in our time but the warmonger Churchill was having none of it. And we are still at war in Europe.

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
9 months ago

Don’t worry lads, you’ll soon have Braverman or Truss or some equally lunatic, swivel eyed loon at the helm of the good ship Tory! What could possibly go wrong?!?!?

John Riordan
John Riordan
9 months ago

A lefty complaining about swivel-eyed loons on the Right. The stupidity involved in making such a remark is almost spectacular.