X Close

Even the King can’t rescue Rishi Sunak

King Charles III speaks at the State Opening of Parliament. Credit: Getty

November 7, 2023 - 1:15pm

Rishi Sunak is running out of time to shake things up. Today’s King’s Speech was many things — sometimes sensible, occasionally interesting, and often just bizarre — but it was not game-changing.

In the legislative programme for the coming year read out by King Charles this morning, there were plans to eradicate smoking (worthy), new rules to encourage driverless transport and make it easier for leaseholders to buy out their freeholder (interesting), as well as proposed new restrictions to tackle the “scourge of pedicabs” (bizarre). There was the occasional nod to raw politics: new oil and gas licences in the North Sea and longer sentences for violent criminals, though neither exactly amount to a radical break from what already exists. On top of this, there were proposals already trailed at the party conference in Manchester such as “Network North” and Sunak’s determination to reform the education system again.

Taken together, the package of measures is, at best, mildly curious. Pulling the camera back, it’s possible to detect a strategy of sorts, trying to mend the Tory Party’s image for chaotic profligacy under Boris Johnson and Liz Truss by offering voters an old-school pragmatic conservatism: moderate in general but tough on crime, sensible with the economy and willing to prioritise the national interest over global concerns like Net Zero. For the Conservative Party’s critics, of course, such a programme is automatically deemed “populist”, but in reality it barely meets this description — in large part because it really isn’t that interesting.

Sunak is entrusting the Bank of England to bring inflation under control, and has increased taxes. In the grand scheme of things, his watering down of his predecessors’ Net Zero plans is mild, tinkering at the edges of a policy to which he remains committed. Almost all governments end up promising to lock up the most violent criminals for longer. 

Today’s King’s Speech reminded me of Sunak’s party conference speech in October: all a bit, well, meh. Unable to do much about the overall economic environment, he is left to pursue pet issues: smoking, tech regulation, poor education standards. Perhaps these will be Sunak’s lasting legacies, legislation with outsized impacts — today’s version of the seatbelt law or the creation of the National Lottery. Even so, they’re unlikely to do anything for his chances of winning the next election.  

To stand any chance of beating Labour at the ballot box, Sunak first needs living standards to start improving — and consistently so. But he also needs to present a coherent vision of how this will continue under his premiership and to provide at least some kind of downpayment so that people can believe it.

After today, the Prime Minister has at most one more King’s Speech in him before the next general election; one more party conference; one more budget. He needs to do a lot more with each opportunity than he has so far.


Tom McTague is UnHerd’s Political Editor. He is the author of Betting The House: The Inside Story of the 2017 Election.

TomMcTague

Join the discussion


Join like minded readers that support our journalism by becoming a paid subscriber


To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.

Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.

Subscribe
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

12 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Michael Cazaly
Michael Cazaly
8 months ago

The country is falling apart…so let’s ban smoking…

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
8 months ago

The writer misses one key provision in the King’s Speech which might actually be “game-changing”, the proposed setting up of a regulator to oversee the financial conduct of football clubs in the top five tiers in English football (down to the National League).
For decades now, smaller, community-based professional clubs have suffered due to the lack of regulation over who can acquire and dispose of assets associated with these clubs, the main asset being the land upon which their grounds are built. These are truly assets to local communities, and not just for football but if utilised wisely, for the benefit of many sections of that community (health activities, business forums, outreach to schools, concerts, etc.)
Financial chancers have been allowed to get away with the ruin of these community assets, and the rot starts at the top, accelerated once the Premier League came into being in 1992 which syphoned off much of the cash-flow within the game to the detriment not just of smaller clubs but the fans who’d hitherto been able to support the major clubs but were then priced out of attending on a regular basis.
Many lower league clubs are struggling, on the verge of going bust and just at the time when the cohesion that sporting attachment to a local club is needed more than ever. If the setting up of a regulator to properly oversee this governance of football – which the EFL has miserably failed to do – then this legislation could have an impact on communities up and down the country much wider than many people might imagine. Included in this would be the redirection of cash-flows to the lower tiers of the professional game, away from the obscene wealth at the top which attracts “investors” from overseas whose values are not entirely consistent with the values our communities might wish to pursue.
For more info: Fair Game (fairgameuk.org)

Last edited 8 months ago by Steve Murray
Caradog Wiliams
Caradog Wiliams
8 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

I sort of half agree with you. Yes, the money at the top is obscene. Yes, many clubs are struggling. But the mismanagement at the clubs will take money to sort out – for ever. This means that the clubs need to spend more of their cash on management, rather than football. Isn’t the magic of football the idea that the minnow can still win whatever the odds against? The clubs are businesses – yes – but would the businesses be attractive if they were just soundly managed, rather than taking risks to win?
If a club goes bust or gets relegated it is a disaster to the community but there are hundreds of other clubs waiting to step in. My own club was bottom of Division 4 for six consecutive years before there was relegation. I never missed a game during that time and even went to the reserve fixtures on the alternate Saturdays. Some clubs like Wrexham and Chesterfield went down; Wrexham came back. Chesterfield will come back. I think (from memory only) that the first club to be relegated was Accrington Stanley and they came back. Bury was rather sad.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
8 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

I don’t doubt football is in a mess. I’ve got no interest in it so I’m happy to take your word for it. But yet another regulator? Nah! Government can’t and shouldn’t try to do everything and football is nothing to do with the Government.

Walter Marvell
Walter Marvell
8 months ago

Impossible to disagree about this tepid limp Speech and the author’s critique of the apolitical Sweet Geek Rishi They looked tired. They lack fire. They have not yet awakened to the fact that imitating the Progressive Left makes them a Kamikaze Zero loaded with an A Bomb which will not hit any target carrier deck. But…but…politics here is a binary business. And I think it is still too soon to rule out serious problems for the dreadful empty cynical Labour Party. They are Nasty. Their Churchillian Right Wing rhetoric is a cynical crude joke. The Muslim Anger will make their alliance with Islam look a tad worrying …as is their promised End of Free Speech/Race Equality/Islamaphobia clampdown. They are a identitarian rabble trying to look like the IOD. There is so little policy….but the little they have shown (more Net Zero fanaticism) will not go down well with a very silent very troubled and cold public. Will Keir really make the sick Blob and broken NHS better?? How? If he continues to pursue his pro union, windfall taxing and mean spirited class war vendetta on the foreign Rich and our private schools, why come election day should the private sector feel any trust in him and his Biden plagiarist Rachel?? The truth will out. A lot can happen still.

Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
8 months ago

All the King’s speeches and all the King’s men, etc., etc…

Philip Stott
Philip Stott
8 months ago

I think Sunak & Hunt have placed massive bets on Labour to win the next election.

Samuel Ross
Samuel Ross
8 months ago

Smoking is bad for your health.

j watson
j watson
8 months ago

His role now is to give Labour the mother of all ‘hospital passes’, and thus the opportunity and pleasure for the braying Right to carry on sloganeering, over simplification and scapegoating without, crucially, the responsibility for actually improving things like they’ve had for the last 13 years. I’m sure many of them will be far happier.

Andrew R
Andrew R
8 months ago
Reply to  j watson

JW perhaps you might to the whole of this, especially episodes 2 and 3. The damning failure of technocracy and of New Labour, the hubris and the incompetence.

The Trap, 2. The Lonely Robot: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p073k134 via @bbciplayer

Who expected the Tories to be any better, when they introduced this nonsense and carried on with it in 2010. Labour wlll be just as useless when they return to office.

j watson
j watson
8 months ago
Reply to  Andrew R

Well I guess you’ll be happy enough then AR as give you plenty to carry on ranting about. Isn’t that half the role of all this on-line stuff anyway?

Andrew R
Andrew R
8 months ago
Reply to  j watson

You’re the one doing the ranting… I’m laughing at you.