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British politics

What Boris Johnson got right

Sunak and Johnson in 2021. Dan Kitwood/WPA Pool/Getty

Rishi Sunak’s pledge to uphold the promises of the 2019 Tory election campaign is smart politics, says Sebastian Payne in the FT. The manifesto had “far more depth and ambition” than the simple “Get Brexit Done” slogan it is remembered for. Full of bold plans for “devolution, expansion of the railways and a boost for science”, it remains the “best blueprint for fixing the country”. It is also the defining text of Boris Johnsonism: “broadly leaning left on economics, tilting right on social and culture issues”. Written with the pro-Brexit, former Labour heartlands of the Red Wall in mind, the manifesto managed to unite the wider Tory base.

But “Johnsonism without Johnson” must adapt to a new reality. Sunak does not command the same level of loyalty as Johnson, whose 80-seat majority has withered into a “raucous group of Tory MPs” lacking drive and determination. The PM’s understandable priority is to “stabilise the nation’s finances”. But he must go much further if the Tories are to secure a historic fifth consecutive election victory – starting with full commitment to levelling up, which would both win votes and boost the economy. Johnson was undone by his lack of “grip”: be it on his Downing Street team, on Whitehall or on his MPs. If Sunak can run an “agile but experienced” No 10, stand “robust” against civil service inertia and maintain cordial relations with Tories, he has a “slender but obvious” route to staying in power. But he must be bold. “Drifting into managerialism means decline and fall.”