Rightly or wrongly, Britain’s credibility is at stake – and right now, Rishi Sunak is more likely to restore confidence in the country’s government than either Penny Mordaunt or Boris Johnson
The choice facing Conservative MPs today is a difficult one. They are behind in the polls, and fear for their political future. They are facing global headwinds that have upped the price of everything from energy to bread and butter. And they are also forced to grapple with their associations – a small but influential band who can, if pushed too far, precipitate an ignominious end to a political career.
The options presented to them – even before Boris pulled out – are not perfect.
Rishi Sunak was Chancellor at a period of time when taxes and borrowing both went up at inexorable speed and who seems to sometimes struggle with the rough and tumble of politics. Penny Mordaunt is untested at the highest levels. It is a shame that some of the brighter minds who emerged during the past leadership contest, from Tom Tugendhat to Kemi Badenoch, did not get a chance to shine brightly once again over an extended period of time – instead, thanks to events and the Truss administration’s wild incompetence, given little time to mount another challenge.
But for all that, only one thought should be occupying the minds of Conservative MPs. Who is best placed to restore Britain’s market credibility – and who do we trust the most to make politics boring again. It is hard to conclude the answer is anybody but Rishi Sunak.
The grown-ups do need to be seen to be in charge
The declinist narrative has been overdone in the past fortnight. This is still a country with plenty of strengths, and we would for all the drama of recent times not wish to swap places with Germany’s energy dilemma or southern Europe’s demographic timebomb. We would not wish to swap our financial services sector with Paris, nor our universities with anywhere else in the world.
But the grown-ups do need to be seen to be in charge. Markets are lonely places, and right now Britain is looking particularly friendless.
Now, Sunak has been all too close to plenty of bad decisions. The increase in national insurance in the middle of a cost of living crisis remains baffling.
He has been given too much credit for predicting the outcome of Trussonomics on market sentiment when his apparently brave forecasts were already priced in by most economists, not least on the increase to interest rates.
And he has so far in office talked a far better game on post-Brexit reforms to financial services or on boosting Britain’s growth rate than he has shown on the pitch of political action.
This, in particular, must change, but it is certainly possible to see a world where Sunak (no longer spending most of this time disarming Boris’ spending bombshells) is able to craft a more coherent path to a lower-tax, growing Britain. He could do worse than spell that out in the coming days.
For all his flaws, a Rishi Sunak premiership would – we hope – be dull and, most probably, competent. A further dalliance with Boris would have created the same vortex we’ve seen before, sucking in attention and focus when the country has genuinely pressing concerns. The idea that Britain’s standing in the world would be improved by a Prime Minister most probably having to face a recall petition in his constituency is for the birds.
Competent and unspectacular, right now, is enough. It has to be Rishi.