For his big back-to-school speech, Rishi Sunak had a choice. The British Prime Minister could pronounce it on a strike day for trains (January 3 to 7), buses (January 4 and 5) or motorway workers (January 3, 4, 6 and 7). He could also wait until next week, with the continuation of the walkout of driving school inspectors, that of paramedics or even teachers in Scotland. It was finally possible to wait until the following week, with the culmination of the two-day nurses’ strike.
The head of government, in place for two and a half months, finally spoke on Wednesday January 4. And he managed the feat of hardly mentioning the climate of social anger, yet unprecedented for three decades. He preferred to speak positively, promising “a future that restores optimism, hope and pride in the UK”. “We can reverse the slow acceptance of decline, reject pessimism and fatalism, refuse the limits of our aspirations. »
Concretely, Mr. Sunak made five promises to the British, on which he intends to be judged at the end of his mandate, in two years (the next elections are scheduled for January 2025). By the end of the year, he assures us that he will halve inflation; that the economy, currently in recession, will return to growth; that he goes ” [s]‘to assure “ that the public debt falls; that National Health Service (NHS) waiting lists will be reduced; and that new laws will be passed to stop the passage of migrants by makeshift boats on the Channel.
This speech was Mr. Sunak’s first opportunity to make his mark. His arrival in Downing Street on October 25 was made in panic. His predecessor, Liz Truss, had lasted only fifty days, after a catastrophic budget which had caused the beginning of a financial panic. She herself succeeded Boris Johnson, whose escapades had hit the headlines throughout the first half of 2022.
Mr Sunak, 42, has therefore spent his first two months in Downing Street calming the storm. “Since I became Prime Minister, we have made progress, stabilizing the economy”, he points out. Still, the political damage is done: the Conservatives are on average at 26% of voting intentions, against 48% for the Labor Party.
Was it prudent to try to inject a dose of optimism into these circumstances? Beth Rigby, a Sky News reporter, was blunt about Mr Sunak at the press conference following his speech: “We were of course expecting a reassuring tone from you, did she say, but in real life you can’t find a train, you can’t get a doctor’s appointment, nurses go to food banks [pour s’en sortir], and if we call 999 [les urgences], we are not sure that an ambulance will arrive in time to save his loved ones. (…) And now you’re making promises how you’re gonna change the country (…). My question is: why does the general public have to believe that you are different from your predecessors? »
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