By Arab News
By Mohamed Chebaro*
A historic day. Yet another one for Britain. The hero this time, Rishi Sunak, the new UK prime minister, gave an initial statement that lasted only 83 seconds. Despite his conciliatory and patriotic words to his party, the parliament and the nation, and maybe the financial market and the world, it was all a bit lost on me due to the fact that the new Conservative Party leader and occupant of No. 10 Downing Street was staring at the wrong camera.
One hopes a glitch such as this will be remedied so that Sunak can stare directly at the adversities facing the UK on all fronts. Yes, some are due to global uncertainty and unprecedented challenges left by the pandemic and, later, the war in Ukraine. But others are the result of an accumulation of failures by Conservative leaderships after Brexit, and their poor management of government policies, the economy and the public sector.
Sunak, we are told, as a young boy saw himself as a “Jedi” from “Star Wars,” and never imagined he would one day become PM. Here on earth, though, he will need exceptional powers simply to unite a fragmented Conservative Party, let alone lead a Cabinet of capable ministers ready to put the interest of the nation and its tiring population ahead of narrow ideologies.
The new PM must be commended for his courage in putting himself forward for the job in the midst of Britain’s problems, most of which are entirely of the Conservative Party’s making.
Britain’s fifth prime minister in six years has inherited an economy that was heading toward recession even before the recent turmoil triggered by his predecessor Liz Truss’s mini-budget sent shockwaves through the markets, crashing the pound. Sunak’s early comments saw him promising “stability and unity,” and vowing to bring “our party and our country together”. But away from the conciliatory words, his in-tray will be brimming with questions of how to deal with the soaring energy bills, labor shortages, spiralling inflation and climbing interest rates.
Yes, the former chancellor of the exchequer has been proven right on the economy, when he warned during the battle to succeed Johnson that the tax cuts promised by Truss was the wrong policy to pursue when government debt had already soared due to COVID-19 interventions. Investors today hope that he will stabilize the economy and the UK’s domestic political situation. And to say the least, he will need all the “Jedi” in him and his supporters to turn the dire situation around.
The rising political and economic uncertainties since Brexit followed by the pandemic and then the war in Ukraine have been hugely damaging to British business confidence, with Jeremy Hunt, the new finance minister, taking reasonable early steps to stabilize the market. The new PM must continue this trend, providing a steady hand on the tiller to put the economy and politics of the country on a stable course.
Yes, opposition parties and the nation are right to call for a general election, and to question what magic wand or “Jedi sword” Sunak can possibly wield to help people deal with a cost-of-living crisis and soaring energy costs, and to prevent disruptive transport, care workers, lawyers and others from striking this winter as inflation exceeds 10 percent.
The next election must be held no later than January 2025. Polls have shown that the Labour Party is enjoying its largest lead in decades, pointing to a Tory wipe-out if elections were held now. That is why the 42-year-old Sunak, the youngest British prime minister in two centuries, is thought by the opposition parties to have “no mandate, no answers and no ideas.”
What will make or break Sunak’s tenure is the extent to which the Tory party is ready to fall in line, with news reports suggesting that some members have been tearing up their membership cards in protest at his premiership. The country has been on the brink since the misleading and divisive Brexit referendum. Sunak must not forget that he, like many ministers and Tory officials, failed to show the nation what it could reap as a result of leaving the EU, other than empty slogans about “taking back control” and building a “global Britain.”
Now the country’s finances, politics and social services are in disarray, with many feeling the effects of a starved social support system due to Tory austerity and mismanagement over the past 12 years. If the situation worsens, future generations are likely to inherit a heavily indebted, medium-sized nation still waiting for imaginary benefits that Brexit was supposed to have delivered.
- Mohamed Chebaro is a British-Lebanese journalist, media consultant and trainer with more than 25 years of experience covering war, terrorism, defense, current affairs and diplomacy.