Rishi Sunak: the first year of the fifth Tory PM


In January this year, Rishi Sunak outlined his five pledges for helping Britain take back control of the mess it has found itself in. Political Editor Tom Lindley analyses how successful Sunak has been in delivering his pledges.

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By Tom Lindley

THE PAST FEW years have been turbulent for Rishi Sunak. Joining the Commons in 2015, his meteoric rise to power has culminated in him holding the top job in British politics.
When his predecessor's greatest legacy was that her tenure didn't last as long as the shelf-life of a lettuce, Sunak was bound to take over. Now, with mounting scandals, historic by-election defeats and an increasingly popular opposition, Sunak may have outlived a tin of tomatoes, but can he make it to the next general election and beat a tin of Spam?
One year on, Sunak has set out five key priorities for Britain: halve inflation, grow the economy, reduce debts, cut waiting lists and stop the boats.
Sunak inherited an economy in turmoil, following the volatility of Liz Truss' 'mini budget'. He set out to bring the markets back into a state of equilibrium, doing so with some success. Inflation has reduced to two-thirds of what it was one year ago. However, monetary policy has been solely controlled by the politically independent Bank of England since 1997, meaning Sunak's direct influence in achieving this can be brought into question.
On economic growth, the International Monetary Fund predicted earlier this year that the UK economy would contract by 0.6 percent in real terms. There have been positive signs of growth since the pandemic which would partially discredit this forecast, but these have been merely incremental. Economic growth was at 0.2 percent in August.
Sunak's third economic priority has been to cut national debts, as a proportion of GDP. Debt was thought to be over 100 percent the value of GDP this year. Although this figure was taken prior to the GDP figures being updated, since then, it has fallen back down to 97.9 percent of GDP - which is still historically high for the UK.
Public sector debt has increased by around 2.5 percent since the new GDP figures were released. However, with inflation higher than the Bank of England's 2 percent target, the real value of debt is less, but this will soon reverse if Sunak is to achieve his priority of reducing inflation.
With Covid-19 backlogs swamping the NHS, Sunak has made reducing waiting times for NHS patients a key priority - no doubt a key issue to voters, but figuring out how to achieve it is the question leaving the PM's critics stumped.
Analysis by the Health Foundation suggests waiting lists will rise to eight million and won't fall until next summer. Numbers rose by 100,000 in July alone, taking waiting lists to a record high of 7.75 million. This means that, since announcing his pledge in January, the numbers have increased by 550,000.
Supporters of Sunak have cited the many strikes undertaken by the NHS professionals being the underlying factor to the waiting list increase. In September this year, junior doctors joined with consultants in a historic display of industrial action.
The British Medical Association (BMA) published a report, stating that junior doctors have staged nineteen days of strike action between March and August. Since then, they have been on strike a further two times. This continued industrial action is perhaps the lead cause behind the increase in the waiting lists, although talks with the government and the BMA have yet to make any significant progress. This shows that Sunak is partially responsible, as he is in direct control of pay negotiations, as is yet to find a solution the BMA can get behind.
Sunak's final pledge has perhaps been his most decisive one: stopping the boats. This pledge refers not only to policies concerning the reduction of illegal migrant crossings, but also the plan to cut the illegal migrant backlog.
The Prime Minister stated that in the first five months of him launching the pledge, migrant crossings have decreased by 20 percent. However, the weather forecasts between January and May are always a significant factor, and contribute largely to the reduced figures in this timeframe.
As for current asylum seekers, the promise that the backlog will be cleared by the end of 2023 seems increasingly unlikely. BBC fact-checkers have shown that at the current rate, it will take 23 months to make the final decisions on the existing asylum applications.
The UK government signed an agreement with Albania last year to return Albanian asylum seekers. This has had a significant impact, as Albanian nationals accounted for 30 percent of all small boat migrants in 2022. This has undoubtedly been a triumph for Sunak, as 1788 migrants were returned within six months. However, this figure also includes foreign nationals convicted of criminal offences and those who voluntarily chose to return. These groups would have therefore left the UK without any policy being enacted.
The jury is still out on whether Sunak has achieved any of his five pledges. Inflation hasn't halved yet but could do by the end of the year. Even when it does fall, it won't be thanks to the Tories, but thanks to the Governor Andrew Bailey.
On economic growth, we are yet to see any real-term progress. The same is true of debt reduction.
Overall, his economic pledges have yet to be fully met but Sunak supporters will say on social policy, he has had some success. One might have to ignore the NHS waiting lists in order to back this idea, and will most certainly have to place the majority of the blame off of Sunak and onto the striking doctors.
His only definitive success has been over his most controversial pledge. In the case of migration, the numbers certainly suggest relative success in comparison to the previous Tory Prime Ministers.