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10 November 2022

Rishi Sunak was meant to heal Tory divisions – but they’re only getting worse

A nurses strike only adds to the Prime Minister’s woes ahead of his spending cuts announcement next week.

By Freddie Hayward

Why did Conservative MPs make Rishi Sunak Prime Minister? Why is he there?

Here are two key reasons (among many). One, to prevent financial meltdown. Two, to restore a semblance of integrity and normality to government. These two aims were supposed to unite the party, resuscitate its electoral prospects and prevent its oblivion. But he is failing in the latter. The debate over his reappointment of Suella Braverman as Home Secretary six days after she resigned for sharing sensitive documents, and Gavin Williamson, who has now resigned because of bullying allegations, reveals that Sunak cannot escape the scandals of the past two years and heal the disunity in the Conservative Party. That was also clear at PMQs yesterday (9 November). The Prime Minister’s performance was as lacklustre as the expressions of his backbenchers.

That matters because the most important moment of Sunak’s premiership so far is only a week away. The Autumn Statement next Thursday (17 November) will set out which taxes will rise and which public services will be cut. The task is monumental. Yesterday, the Royal College of Nursing voted to go on strike for the first time in its history, threatening to worsen the Covid backlog and winter pressures. It wants a 17.6 per cent pay rise, which the Health Secretary, Steve Barclay, claims would cost £9bn.

The strike action only makes next week’s decisions more difficult for the Prime Minister. Some senior Tories have expressed concerns about plans to raise the top rate of tax. And reports suggest he’s already been scared away from cutting benefit payments. This week exposed the problems of next. Without unity, which was Sunak’s raison d’être for some MPs, he may struggle to pass his policies through colleagues in the House.

[See also: Under Rishi Sunak the Tories have a mountain to climb – but they have a plan]

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