“Smile, Rishi!” Yelled Photographers After New PM’s First Speech



Rishi Sunak’s first speech as Prime Minister was notable for what it didn’t say as much as what it did. The world was watching him – and India more intently and proudly than anywhere else – because he had just become Britain’s first non-white Prime Minister. It was a historic moment – a former imperial power being led by someone whose heritage rests with the colonised rather than the colonisers.

Yet, in his address to the nation from outside 10, Downing Street, Mr Sunak made no mention of it. There was nothing about himself, or where he came from, or the symbolism of a man of Indian heritage taking the top job.

He wanted all the focus to be on the daunting task he faces: to restore trust “after all that has happened”, as he put it. Trust of the financial markets in the competence and good sense of those running the country, and trust of the British people in the calibre and honesty of their leaders.

He wants to be seen as sensible, purposeful and above all business-like. That’s his style: serious not sentimental. As he stood on the threshold of Downing Street, photographers pleaded with him to smile. “Cheer up, Rishi!” one shouted – in vain.

While Rishi Sunak paid tribute in his remarks to both his predecessors – Liz Truss and Boris Johnson – he also made clear that he will do things very differently.

He pledged to ensure integrity, professionalism and accountability at all levels of government – qualities which many feel were lacking when Boris Johnson was in power.

And he was candid that Liz Truss had made mistakes. His purpose as the Prime Minister was to fix those mistakes, he said. And he promised that he would put economic stability at the heart of his agenda.

Mr Sunak emphasised that Britain faces a profound economic crisis and spoke of difficult decisions to come. He didn’t spell out what these would be. But cuts in public spending are looming, and taxes may have to go up – moves which will be deeply unpopular especially at a time of an acute cost of living crisis. We will know more when the details of his economic and tax policy are announced in the Parliament on Monday.

But the new Prime Minister insisted that he would govern the country with compassion and pointed to the steps he had taken as the Chancellor of the Exchequer to shield people from the economic devastation that the Covid pandemic threatened to inflict. He is keen to dispel any suggestion that because he is enormously wealthy, he doesn’t understand the difficulties faced by Britain’s poor.

In his initial hours in office, Rishi Sunak has been preoccupied with appointing his cabinet. He stuck to his promise of bringing in talent from all wings of the Conservative Party rather than simply appointing his friends and allies.


The big surprise is the return as Home Secretary, less than week after she was forced to resign for a breach of security, of Suella Braverman, who is emerging as a key figure on the right of the party. She too is of Indian heritage. Her father’s family is from Goa and her mother is from the Tamil community on Mauritius. Of the four biggest jobs in British politics, two are now held by the people of Indian heritage.

As well as his own back story, there was something else strikingly absent from Mr Sunak’s initial speech as Britain’s new Prime Minister. There was only a passing mention of Ukraine and the war unleashed by Russia’s Vladimir Putin. That doesn’t signal any dilution of Britain’s practical and moral support for Kyiv. But it does point to one of Rishi Sunak’s most evident weaknesses. He doesn’t have much experience of foreign policy.

Mr Sunak won’t have got round yet to thinking of his initial ventures on the world stage. But pencilled into his diary will be the summit of the G20 in Indonesia in three weeks. That will give him an early opportunity to meet President Biden.

And there could well also be an encounter in Bali which will attract enormous media interest – a possible meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which will inevitably be headlined as “two Indian Prime Ministers” in conclave.

(Andrew Whitehead was a Political Correspondent and an India Correspondent during his 35 year career with BBC News)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author

Featured Video Of The Day


Source link

You cannot copy content of this page