The new PM is neither a globalist stooge nor a socialist
“It is incumbent on the government to support people, especially those unable to support themselves, and through the welfare state, public services and education.”
So said a famous British politician, but who? Perhaps someone who believes it is the duty of the state to redistribute wealth? How about this:
“There’s a reason we talk about the importance of family, community…because they are more important than the market or the state.”
These aren’t the words of a libertarian free-marketeer or GDP-obsessed think tanker. They are more likely the views of a communitarian like my friend Danny Kruger MP. Or this:
“Every year thousands and thousands of people come into the UK illegally.… it makes a mockery of our system and it must stop.”
Could that be Nigel Farage or perhaps Priti Patel?
In fact, all these statements belong to just one person — our new Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak. Yes, the man who has been painted by the Right as a socialist and the Left as ‘Davos man’ and a globalist stooge does not conform to these stereotypes.
Sunak is the heir of neither Blair nor Cameron; he is instead a much more nuanced politician who is far more in tune with the populist realignment — and therefore with the views of ordinary voters and popular opinion — than many commentators assume. And the political reality is that Sunak will have to lean into this realignment because it is the only way that the Conservative Party can avoid wipe-out at the next general election.
The Brexit referendum in 2016, and Conservative ‘Red Wall’ victories in 2017 and 2019, were a reaction to the failures of the political and economic system of the last 30 years. For decades, successive governments in Westminster and Brussels exalted London and ignored the regions, accepted staggering levels of low-skilled immigration, favoured graduates while manufacturing jobs declined, and collaborated in an assault on British culture by the illiberal Left.
This is why many MPs and party members last weekend sought the return of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister; he was, after all, a leader uniquely associated with Brexit and the realignment. Many fear that without Boris, the movement is over. But although Johnson remains an important figurehead with distinctive voter appeal, little progress was made in key areas during his premiership. Immigration hit its highest levels on record, the university classes continued to dominate, and there was very little pushback on the radical Left-wing progressivism that has captured our major institutions.
So can Rishi Sunak take up the mantle?
Our new Prime Minister is clearly not Boris 2.0. Sunak cannot position himself as the anti-establishment underdog, and he has not had a career as a journalist with a platform to promote his views on a wide range of topics. In fact, as Chancellor during a global pandemic, Sunak’s freedom to speak on anything other than the economy was tightly constrained. But on the main axes of economics, society and culture, I believe there is evidence to suggest Sunak may be well placed to take on the baton.
On economics, where many 2019 Conservative voters lean to the Left, Sunak’s financial support schemes — like furlough and a universal credit uplift — were always aimed at those on the lowest incomes first. While Conservative MPs frequently call for lower taxes, the more popular position in the country is for fairer taxes and well-funded public services. Sunak was criticised by some for presiding over tax rises, but his refusal to debt-fund social care reforms (and the subsequent National Insurance increase) aligns closely with the values of Red Wall voters.
On society, Sunak has indicated that he believes passionately in the value of strong families, community and nation. Despite fiscal pressures, he found £500m in the October 2021 Budget for the Start for Life programme to improve support for families with young children. On community, Sunak delivered Towns Funds, Levelling Up funds, Community Ownership Funds and countless local infrastructure projects during his time as Chancellor. And on national identity, he has sent a clear signal that he will be tough on immigration, with the reappointment of the uncompromising Suella Braverman as Home Secretary.
Finally on culture, we can assume that Sunak, a family man with Hindu faith and Indian heritage, is sympathetic to traditional values. But is he willing to publicly take on the battles that must be fought against ideologies that seek to denigrate British history and stoke division? I have no expectation that Sunak is going to be a vocal culture warrior (neither was Boris), but again we have clues that he at least understands the salience of these issues to voters. This summer he said:
The inclusion of Kemi Badenoch in his cabinet, a politician who not only understands the importance of these issues but has the courage to take them on, is a good start.
The demands of the realignment are still there. High streets and bus services are still in decline, family breakdown is rising, and inflation is exacerbating inequality. The events in Cambridge this week reveal the shocking potential of illiberal radical progressivism. If Conservatives under Rishi Sunak don’t meet those demands we will not win (or deserve to win) the next election and there may well be a resurgence of another party of the Right.