Rishi Sunak might claim to be a “polite radical”, says Fraser Nelson in The Daily Telegraph, but his big new year speech laying out his vision for the country was “vague and vacuous” at best. What did he promise? “Halving inflation” – which was predicted to happen “even under Liz Truss”. “Grow the economy”, even though the last time a peacetime economy failed to grow after more than two years was 1506-08. (Lucky us, a Prime Minister who “solemnly pledges that his record on economic growth will be better than that of Henry VII”.) “Cut debt”, even though official figures show he is planning “no such thing”. “NHS waiting lists fall” – also “long predicted” to happen this year. “No tricks,” Sunak promised. Alas, his pledges are “almost all tricks”.
Keir Starmer’s riposte the following day was “mushy” too, and critics may be right that he’s “unwatchably dull”. But the Labour leader stands to benefit far more from the “play it safe” strategy both men have adopted. He might not have any real ideas, but all he has to do is “keep firing bullets into the corpse of Corbynism” and carry on minesweeping for anything that might “explode” in the election campaign. This is Starmer’s unspoken pitch: “Yes, I’m bland. But not threatening. And I offer a break from Tory psychodrama.” That will be enough for many voters.
🍜👀 There has been a lot of talk in Westminster of Boris Johnson’s backers trying to undermine Rishi Sunak, says Katy Balls in The Times. But the bigger threat may come from the “Trussites”. Shortly before Christmas, a small cabal of veterans from the Liz Truss administration met in a darkly lit Chinese restaurant near the Home Office. One of the diners, Simon Clarke, has already set up a new group of Conservatives dedicated to “that Trussite watchword”: growth. It looks like whatever fights he’d rather be having, Sunak will now have to worry about the “pro-growth coalition” within Tory ranks.