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British politics

Sunak’s balancing act

Braverman: “full-metal-jacket anti-wokery”. Leon Neal/Getty

What drove Rishi Sunak to reappoint scandal-plagued Suella Braverman as home secretary, asks Matthew d’Ancona in Tortoise. It’s not just because the PM needs to keep his party’s right wing on board. He is also trying to give voters a version, “without all the mad rule-breaking”, of the Boris Johnson offer that proved so popular in 2019. The problem is, Johnson’s big-spending tendencies are out of the question. Sunak is “defined by his commitment to fiscal responsibility”, and there’s a £50bn hole in the national budget that needs to be filled. So he can’t offer Red Wall voters “shiny investment projects and fizzing infrastructure”. But he can try to placate them with Johnson-style, “full-metal-jacket anti-wokery”. 

Just look at Sunak’s Cabinet. There’s Braverman, who “understands the visceral, often unspoken sentiments of a great many voters about the small boats crisis”. There’s Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan, a “seasoned culture warrior” who’s argued the BBC licence fee should be scrapped. There’s Kemi Badenoch, who used her first House of Commons outing as Minister for Women and Equalities to attack the CEO of an LGBT+ magazine. Sunak himself, an alumnus of Goldman Sachs and Stanford Business School, probably regards politics as “no more than a branch of economics”. He’s not naturally suited to waging a culture war. But as one of life’s winners, he knows what it takes to maximise chances of victory.