It is already known that revolutions tend to devour their children. The Jacobins succeeded the Girondins, the Bolsheviks succeeded the Mensheviks, and in England, since Brexit, ruthless conservatism to compassionate conservatism and hard Euroscepticism to soft. If it's October, it's Rishi Sunak's turn – the third Tory leader in less than three months – to be UK Prime Minister.
In the morning he was sworn in before King Charles III, at noon he addressed the country for the first time at the gate of Downing Street and in the afternoon he formed a continuity government that keeps Liz Truss's main ministers in office: Jeremy Hunt at the head of Finance, James Cleverley of Foreign Affairs and Suella Braverman of the Interior, the three great portfolios of State. Penny Mordaunt, who challenged him for the lead all the way to the finish line, remains as leader of the Commons. No revenge. Everything is for the sake of the unity of the Conservative Party, so as not to create more enemies than the just ones from the outset.
"My head is with Rishi Sunak, my heart with Penny Mordaunt and my soul with Boris Johnson," commented a Tory MP yesterday, in a good summary of the dilemma that has been eating away at many colleagues for some time. They no longer know very well what they are, nor what the party is. They accept that the new premier, the choice of the establishment and the markets, is the most reasonable leader to overcome the current economic crisis, but they are not fascinated by it. In love, nothing.
Hard to find – neither from his colleagues nor from citizens in general – when the motto is “austerity, competition, stability”. Competence and stability should be taken for granted, though there wasn't much of the first with Truss, and the second zero with Johnson. But the very idea of austerity makes the British hair stand on end, because the last wave had only ended when the pandemic hit, and the country (except for the millionaires) has never recovered from the financial crisis of 2008 Since then, the economy has been a bloated bubble as the Bank of England put money into circulation, house prices (buying and renting) rose while wages remained stagnant, pensioners prospered at the expense of the young, inequality increased and the middle classes spent and consumed more than they produced and saved. A textbook recipe for inflation, with the invaluable help of the war in Ukraine, the crisis in supply chains and the generous aid of the pandemic. A million people have not returned to work, some due to illness (long-term covid), others because they have become accustomed to a different lifestyle. The era of cheap money and low interest rates could not last forever.
Rishi Sunak informed the British yesterday that it is officially over as of now. "Hard decisions for difficult times," he told them from the door of Downing Street, which has become his official residence despite the fact that he has two houses in London (one for family and friends who visit him). And, contrary to tradition, he did it alone, without his billionaire wife and his two daughters, as if to reflect the seriousness of the matter.
After his less than optimistic intervention, the traditional parade of politicians, some to be fired, others to be appointed, and the rest to be confirmed. Half a dozen ministers loyal to Truss received the dismissal notice, most prominently Jacob Rees-Mogg, who held the Business portfolio and remained hostile to Sunak to the last. New, the reincorporation of Michael Gove as the person in charge of seeking a better balance between the poor north and the rich south, a difficult task with the return of austerity and the cutback of infrastructure plans.
The continuity of Braverman on the Interior and Cleverly on Foreign Affairs suggests a hard line on immigration and relations with the European Union, the intention to send asylum seekers to Rwanda, to continue threatening to break the Northern Ireland Protocol and to abandon the Charter of Human Rights and the jurisdiction of the European courts. The new premier, like Truss, has expressed the desire to make a bonfire with all the EU laws and regulations that are still in force in terms of the environment, hygiene, public health and labor rights. He to confront the unions and limit the right to strike and protest.
Sunak's parents were immigrants, but he attended private schools and is the epitome of upper-class English, blessed by Davos. Yesterday he promised compassion when it comes to sharing sacrifices, but by nature he is not the friend of the poor and working people, but of investors, bankers, speculators and millionaires. The financial plan that he plans to present on October 31 may or may not delay the 3% increase in defense spending promised by Truss, but it is most likely that it will reduce social aid in real terms, adapting its increase to salaries instead of inflation. When politicians talk about "difficult times", it is already known for whom they are going to be. For the workers and the middle classes. His axis is not London-Paris-Berlin, but Silicon Valley-Bombay-London. The highest taxes in seventy years are going to rise even higher, and the most expensive prices in a generation are going to continue to rise.
If there were elections, the majority of Britons would not vote for Sunak today, just as (a saying of British and American politics) that turkeys (and chickens, lambs or capons) do not vote for early Christmas. Nobody likes going to the slaughterhouse. Austerity is back on the menu, with stability and competition as accompaniments.