Rishi Sunak announced as the new Prime Minister
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Rishi Sunak will be the next Prime Minister after his main Conservative Party leadership rival, Penny Mordaunt, pulled out of the Tory leadership contest on Monday. At one stage, it appeared that former leader Boris Johnson could also mount a bid for a surprise return to Number 10, but he also withdrew from the race. Mr Sunak urged his party to “unite or die” in a speech on Monday as he looks to lead the Tories back from the brink of electoral disaster.
This means that Mr Sunak enters office less than two months after he was narrowly defeated by Liz Truss in the Tory leadership race in early September. The former Chancellor warned at the time that Ms Truss’ economic policies would fail, and this ultimately came to pass. She was forced to resign just weeks after her mini-budget spooked the markets, plunged the value of the pound and forced the Bank of England to save pension funds from going bust.
Mr Sunak’s reputation for being a safe pair of hands when it comes to the economy has been boosted after the markets responded calmly to the announcement that he will become Prime Minister. However, not everyone is confident that the new Tory leader will oversee an economic revival.
Political commentator and tax expert, Richard Murphy, has warned that Mr Sunak’s premiership will be “grim” and that he will turn the country into a “wasteland”. He said Mr Sunak will pursue austerity measures that will hurt public services and cause a “terrible two years” between now and the next general election.
In a Twitter thread posted on Monday, Mr Murphy said: “So, we will get Sunak. If that happens he has one thing going for him, which is that a majority of Tory MPs might want him in office. That might give a few weeks of stability, at least. Thereafter everything about his premiership looks likely to be grim.
“Economically, he will deliver austerity. I suspect he will keep [Jeremy] Hunt in office. They agree on crushing public spending. Fear for the NHS, education, benefits, pensions, public sector employees and so much else. Destruction is their chosen path for public services.
“Fear too for borrowers. These two will not challenge the Bank of England’s plan to increase interest rates with devastating consequences for millions of households, whether in mortgage or rent payments. Businesses will fail and unemployment will rise. This will be Sunak’s choice.
“What else will happen in this wasteland Sunak will create? Brexit will be pursued. There will be conflict over Northern Ireland. Scotland’s wishes will also be defied as part of a flag-waving exercise to prove loyalty to England.”
Mr Murphy believes Mr Sunak will inspire only more economic misery at a time when the Conservatives are languishing far behind Labour in the polls. But, the expert still thinks the new Prime Minister could pose a big threat to Sir Keir Starmer by the time the 2024 general election comes around.
This is because, after two years, inflation in the UK should start to come down, Mr Muprhy said. The expert argued that it is likely Mr Sunak will have had nothing to do with the recovery, but will try and claim credit for it nonetheless.
But Mr Murphy added that Labour “will have no easy ride” in the 2024 election unless Sir Keir produces policies that make an impression on the British public.
He continued: “Labour had better have something good to say. Talking about incidental tax changes, which is their current policy line, will not work. Nor will talk of sound money, because Sunak will win that one by 2024. So they really had better say what they will do now.”
While Mr Murphy is pessimistic about the UK’s economic prospects under Mr Sunak, many Tory MPs are convinced he is the man to take the country forward. Chancellor Jeremy Hunt threw his weight behind Mr Sunak in an article for a Sunday newspaper.
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In his column, Mr Hunt argued that Mr Sunak can “be trusted to make difficult choices”. He also highlighted that the former Chancellor was proven right when he said that Ms Truss’ “unfunded tax cuts” would fail.
Former Prime Minister, Theresa May, has also praised Mr Sunak. On Monday, she tweeted that he will “provide the calm, competent, pragmatic leadership our country needs at this deeply challenging time.”
Mr Sunak may not have much time to implement his economic vision, however. Opposition parties want a general election now, and some Tory MPs have even clamoured for a vote in order to win a fresh mandate from the British public.
Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, has accused Mr Sunak of “dodging scrutiny” after becoming Prime Minister without the backing of the British electorate. Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Ed Davey, leader of the Liberal Democrats, have also joined calls for a general election.
On Sunday, Conservative minister Zac Goldsmith said that an election is now “morally unavoidable”. His view is supported by an ally of Mr Johnson, Nadine Dorries. She said the Tory party will be “ungovernable” with another new leader at the helm.
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