Today marks one year of Rishi Sunak’s premiership. Electorally speaking, he is doing particularly badly: the Tories lost two formerly safe seats in “historic” by-elections last week, and, with Labour consistently ahead in the polls, they now seem all but guaranteed to lose the next national vote.
But Sunak himself can surely be forgiven for a lot of this—other, perhaps, than by the donors—given that his party was in government for over a decade before he entered Number 10. The more important question, then, is whether Britain is better off thanks to his short time in office.
There are many ways to assess this, and there could be no kinder way to do so than by checking in on his “five key priorities for 2023.” (There is no kinder way since these exclude countless key areas, such as crime and education, where Britain’s long-term decline is well illustrated.)
The first three lay out Sunak’s pledges to bring down the national debt and inflation and to grow the economy. Officials said at the time he entered office that much of this was going to happen anyway, so it is hardly congratulatory to point out that some progress has been made. It is, in fact, far more significant that government debt remains high by historical standards and that the economy is growing slowly following lockdown (by just 0.2% in August after a sharp drop in July).
Commenting on Sunak’s record, Ben Harris-Quinney, chairman of conservative think tank The Bow Group, told The European Conservative:
Since the launch of the targets, the national debt has risen to £2.6 trillion (100% of GDP). This is far higher than after the 2008 crash, and [it] means the Conservatives have more than doubled national debt and are on course to triple it.
When Sunak came to power, the NHS waiting list was also at crisis point thanks to lockdowns, so to say, as he did in his fourth pledge, that he would make this “fall,” without going into specifics, wasn’t exactly ambitious. And it is still well over 7.5 million, anyway.
Perhaps the most interest, however, has been paid to the final pledge: to “stop small boats.” We have now reported on countless occasions about the failing and humiliating efforts to enact this priority. The long and short of it is that officials predict thousands more illegal migrants will cross the Channel this year.
Besides, illegal crossings are, as Harris-Quinney pointed out, “a tiny element of what would be required to meet their 13-year-old promise” to cut overall immigration. Branding the party’s rhetoric as a “distraction,” he said:
2023 stands to be one of the highest years on record for illegal boat crossings. The asylum backlog is approaching 200,000 with the cost of accommodation soaring. The vast majority of illegal migrants enter the country by other means than small boats and are often undetected. The total number of illegal migrants will run to many hundreds of thousands, with legal migration at 1.2 million last year. The migration inflow total this year is likely to be close to 2 million. Some way off the tens of thousands promised.
It has been a year since Sunak entered office, and after all his talk about “change,” the Bow Group chairman concluded that
Even on the low-grade targets Sunak set himself he has catastrophically failed, [and] whoever you speak to, the conclusion is the same—Britain is falling apart.
It is no wonder then that up to 25 of Sunak’s own MPs are submitting letters of no confidence in his leadership. The figure would be higher were it not for “many more” backbenchers being “resigned to Sunak leading the party into the next election because of the number of leadership changes the party has already seen since 2019,” as The Guardian put it. But then the question becomes: would another Tory leader—or, indeed, Labour—do any better.