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Tory politics

What does Rishi Sunak believe?

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Without any fuss, says Robert Shrimsley in the FT, “Rishi Sunak celebrated six months in office this week”. And you have to admit, he’s doing rather well. Fears over the public finances have calmed; civility and trust have been restored to EU relations. He has shown “political courage as well as tenacity” in facing down his party’s right wing. Having inherited a country in a mess, the Prime Minister has defined himself as the “problem-solver-in-chief”. A cabinet ally says the defining image of Sunak is him sitting at a table “with the head of a government body and a large lever-arch file”. Another senior Tory describes his operating model as: “Rishi arrives; Rishi delivers; Rishi moves on.”

It’s sometimes said that the PM is kowtowing to his party’s hardliners on the culture wars and illegal immigration. But there is no reason to believe he’s uncomfortable taking a firm stance on these issues at all. For all his “easy manner, career in global finance and ethnic background”, the Prime Minister is a deep social conservative. If there is a “Sunakism”, it is a vision of a “traditionalist, intensely patriotic, self-supporting, techno-optimistic, enterprising society”. In other words, “a nation of Sunaks”. That would not be the worst outcome for the country. But such ambitions run up against huge “demographic, geopolitical, economic and technological” forces, all pushing towards a bigger, not smaller state. The question now is whether Sunak can evolve to meet these grand challenges – ones that demand more than “hard work and a lever-arch file”.