February 3, 2023

For a politician who likes to talk about his years in tech-loving California, Rishi Sunak’s premiership so far hasn’t been so much “move fast and break things” – as the Silicon Valley mantra goes – but more “take your time and fix things.” “.

There are both immediate problems and slower threats.

This week, most people will feel the impact of strikes in some way as railroad workers, postmen and nurses all leave the stage.

Within the government, the focus seems to be shifting from averting the strikes to reducing their impact. Troops are already preparing at airports to man passport gates ahead of the Border Force action.

In the coming days, we will likely see Armed Forces personnel in hospitals begin training to drive ambulances.

Although Health Secretary Steve Barclay has said his door is open for talks, the mood music isn’t great.

On Saturday, Pat Cullen, boss of the Royal College of Nursing, accused the health secretary of ignoring her demands because she was a woman who represented a majority of the female workforce.

Those comments were met with dismay by some in the government, describing them as “ridiculous” and “laughable”.

But while ministers maintain their refusal to look again at wages, Labor’s position appears to have evolved slightly.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak walks outside Downing Street in London, Britain, December 7, 2022. REUTERS/Toby Melville
Rishi Sunak has only two years left until the next election

Having said earlier this week that there was reason to review wages given rising inflation, the shadow health secretary confirmed today that he would do so. willing to sit down with the unions to discuss wages.

That said, Wes Streeting still refuses to give a figure on a settlement and has said nurses’ demands of about 17% are prohibitive.

The government agrees.

On Friday, Jeremy Hunt denied reports that he had blocked a 10% pay rise that could have ended the dispute with railway workers.

The political question is: Who will the public blame for these strikes?

As it stands, polls indicate a degree of sympathy for unions and workers. However, disruption during Christmas can change that.

The big risk for Rishi Sunak is broader: that the country is not functioning properly and the government is unable to do anything about it.

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Conservative MPs realize this and are starting to show signs of agitation.

This weekend there have been two interventions that could easily be interpreted as thinly veiled attacks on the Prime Minister’s strategy.

Forty MPs from the Conservative Way Forward group have written to the Chancellor expressing concern over government spending on so-called “woke” projects given current tax levels.

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“Will Health Minister talk to nurses to avoid strikes?”

Boris Johnson ally and former Tory treasurer Lord Cruddas has also expressed support for a new campaign aimed at improving party democracy.

Despite insisting they are not “anti-Rishi”, those behind the group are clearly not fans of the current approach.

“There are no centre-right parties anymore, we only have centre-left parties, including the Conservative Party,” said campaign founder and former MEP David Campbell Bannerman.

He predicts clashes ahead, especially as the party gets busy with local elections in May.

One issue that could appease MPs is immediate action on small boat crossings. “We will probably lose the next election, but if we don’t sort out the boat crossings, we will definitely lose,” said one government member.

Two years after the general elections, the difficulty for Rishi Sunak is that it takes time to solve all these problems.

The hope is for a vastly improved situation by winter 2023, giving Downing Street room to announce good news to cheer backbenchers and lay the groundwork for the election.

But with so many uncertainties, it’s hard to see those sunlit highlands with any clarity.

After a year of political bangs, 2022 seems to be ending with a fizzle.

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