Kuenssberg: Sunak is now hostage to his promises on childcare and small boats

  • By Laura Kuensberg
  • Presenter, Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg

“You can do a lot in a week” – a snap from Rishi Sunak’s oh so casual social media feed shows him sitting on a bench, reading his notes on the tarmac near two parked fighter jets.

The feed of images is designed to show the world a few days of frenetic activity. Here I am with Joe Biden! Here I am at Budget! Here, I work as hard as I can on your behalf!

In his first two months in charge, Rishi Sunak’s workaholic tendencies have been applied to a set of acute and immediate issues – could he stop the turmoil in the Conservative Party and financial markets? So, did he have a clear idea of ​​what he wanted to do?

He tried to answer that with his five promises at the turn of the year. Allies say there’s a “raging mood” and a sense that he can now start to focus on whatever priorities he chooses, rather than mopping up the mess of what came before.

But here comes the next challenge – can Rishi Sunak make what he promised voters a reality?

source of images, British government


Carefully crafted social media images aim to show the world Rishi Sunak’s frenetic activity

It didn’t happen this time. In fact, a former minister called it a “snoozefest”. But that doesn’t mean it’s problem-free. The idea designed to grab the attention of most voters is also a massive logistical task.

Giving much more support to beleaguered parents sounds appealing and could make a practical difference in the lives of many voters. From a purely political point of view, it also had appeal for the Tory HQ, as childcare was an issue Labor were trying to race on.

But what ministers called England’s ‘biggest ever expansion in childcare’ could be extremely difficult to deliver. Nurseries have closed in recent years as they find it increasingly difficult to make childcare viable as a business.

Ministers are aware that this could be overkill: that is why the changes are being introduced gradually. But if the promise of brighter nurseries, happy toddlers and less stressed parents doesn’t match reality, the government could be punished.

There is a sliver of conservative opinion uneasy with what amounts to another costly expansion of the state.

And don’t forget the big picture – the budget highlighted the strain on people’s wallets, with falling living standards and fears of a ‘lost decade’. A big and expensive promise on child care that is hard to keep does not erase this reality overnight.

source of images, Getty Images


Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has promised a big increase in childcare, but nurseries have closed

The Prime Minister has also made huge political efforts to end the passage of migrants across the Channel.

The slogan “Stop the Boats” even appears on his government desk. This simple three-word phrase, borrowed from Australia, is already part of the political lexicon.

The Home Secretary has just landed in Rwanda where she hopes to continue her efforts to get migrants arriving in the UK sent there. Almost every time a government minister opens his mouth he mentions action he is taking, other new laws which have just started making their way through Parliament this week, despite the doubts expressed by some seasoned Tories, even Theresa May.

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But keeping that vow to end the crossings will be extremely difficult. The courts are soon having another say on the legality of sending new arrivals to Rwanda. The practical details of where any detained person will be housed are unclear.

Relations with France are much better with “the bromance” between Rishi Sunak and President Emmanuel Macron. But France has not signed a return agreement. It’s impossible to know if Rishi Sunak’s pledge will make much of a difference.

A skeptic might suggest that ministers are aware of this and that being seen to be making an effort is also important. The party’s strong language on immigration is also a point of contrast with the Labor Party. Yet – just like with the big deal on free childcare – a promise made but not kept could be hugely damaging.

For a leader who favors under-promise over over-delivery, Rishi Sunak has given the government two very important tasks, none of which he can be sure of accomplishing. In the coming weeks there will be more – new measures to tackle anti-social behavior, a push on green businesses and perhaps plans for local health care too.

source of images, Getty Images


The French president hailed a “moment of reconnection”, but there was no agreement on the return of migrants across the Channel

His supporters believe the Prime Minister now has his own momentum, an elusive element in politics that is difficult to create. But there are banana peels that could drag the calm in the coming days.

His former boss will be in front of MPs to answer questions about Partygate’s toxic mess. Like it or not, Boris Johnson is a walking, talking headline generator, sucking up almost all the political oxygen available.

A minister told me that “the ‘Bring Back Boris’ brigade is quieter now”, but its presence is still unpredictable and disruptive, a headache the current No 10 could do without.

More seriously, this week there is a vote on what the Prime Minister has hailed as a real breakthrough, the Windsor Framework, to undo the long-standing knot of Northern Irish protocol.

Northern Irish trade unionists, the DUP, who have long opposed the effects of these arrangements, have yet to reveal exactly what they will do. They are few in number, but their support – or lack thereof – is fundamental for the government to be able to get back to work in Northern Ireland again.

For all that Rishi Sunak’s allies and many Tory MPs believe his approach is starting to work, there isn’t much evidence in the polls, which remain stubbornly abysmal for the Tories. But polls are not real votes.

It won’t be long before the Prime Minister faces the most important verdict of all and his first in office – local elections at the polls in May. Then his promises and the public’s belief that he can deliver on them will be put to the test for real.

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