Labour dismisses Rishi Sunak’s five new pledges as mostly ‘so easy it would be difficult not to achieve them’ – UK politics live | Politics

Labour says Sunak’s promises mostly ‘so easy it would be difficult not to achieve them’

The Labour party says the five Rishi Sunak promises will mostly be easy for him to achieve. In a press notice it says the pledges are “all things that were happening anyway; are so easy it would be difficult not to achieve them; or are aimed at fixing problems of the Tories’ own making”.

Here is the Labour party analysis. It is quite long, but I can’t find it online, so I will post it in full here.

PROMISE ONE: “We will halve inflation this year to ease the cost of living and give people financial security.”

Reality: According to the OBR’s latest forecasts, CPI inflation in the last quarter of this year is already set to fall to 3.8%, nearly two thirds lower than in the last quarter of 2022 (11.1%).

The prime minister’s pledge is therefore likely to be less ambitious than existing official forecasts.

PROMISE TWO:We will grow the economy, creating better-paid jobs and opportunity right across the country.”

Reality: According to the latest OECD forecasts, the UK is one of the only advanced economies to not grow this year – so we could hardly do worse than we were. In contrast, our competitor economies like France, Italy and the US are expected to grow sustainably over this year and next.

The OBR expects unemployment to rise over the next two years, with 500,000 more people out of work in 2024 than last year.

PROMISE THREE:We will make sure our national debt is falling so that we can secure the future of public services.”

Reality: Targeting lower public sector net debt is an existing government fiscal target that the OBR already expected it to meet. At the end of the forecast period (2027/28), the OBR still expects debt to be 30% higher as a percentage of GDP than when they came to power.

PROMISE FOUR: “NHS waiting lists will fall and people will get the care they need more quickly.”

Reality: According to the respected Institute for Fiscal Studies, waiting lists were already set to fall in the second half of 2023. Treatment numbers tend to increase after the winter and the number of people on waiting lists is predicted to peak in the middle of this year and then fall providing the NHS is able to treat patients at usual volumes

PROMISE FIVE: We will pass new laws to stop small boats, making sure that if you come to this country illegally, you are detained and swiftly removed.”

Reality: Successive Tory prime ministers have repeatedly promised to stop the boats. Instead, their new laws have made the problem worse and the boats are at a record high.

The government has failed to negotiate proper returns agreements and their own impact assessments show the Rwanda plan won’t work. They said the Nationality and Borders Act would stop the boats – it didn’t work either. We need real action to stop the criminal gangs at source.

Key events

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Summary

Here is a round-up of the day’s main headlines:

  • NHS waiting times are too long, Rishi Sunak has admitted in a new year’s speech that saw him urge hospitals not to cancel elective surgeries despite the severe pressure on A&E departments. The prime minister did not say whether people should expect immediate improvement in the health service, after reports of unnecessary deaths due to long ambulance response times and difficulties transferring patients into hospital.

  • Plans for all pupils in England to study maths up to the age of 18 to tackle innumeracy and better equip them for the modern workplace were also confirmed by the prime minister. Looking forward to the year ahead, Sunak said he knew people were approaching 2023 with “apprehension”, and voiced hopes of restoring optimism. Though he repeated a promise to tackle strike action, Sunak did not give any details about legislation. He promised to say more in “the coming days about our approach”.

  • The Labour party says the five Rishi Sunak promises will mostly be easy for him to achieve. In a press notice it says the pledges are “all things that were happening anyway; are so easy it would be difficult not to achieve them; or are aimed at fixing problems of the Tories’ own making”.

  • Ed Davey, the Lib Dem leader, says the Rishi Sunak speech shows he is “asleep at the wheel” when it comes to dealing with the NHS crisis. In a statement he says: “People will be dismayed that Rishi Sunak still doesn’t have a proper plan to deal with the crisis raging in the NHS. He is asleep at the wheel while patients are treated in hospital corridors and the health service is stretched to breaking point.”

  • Pat Cullen, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, says Rishi Sunak’s speech suggests he is “detached from the reality” of what is happening in the NHS. She made the comment in an open letter to Steve Barclay, the health secretary, released to the media.

  • The former Conservative treasurer Peter Cruddas, a key ally of Boris Johnson, is set to launch a Momentum-style grassroots campaign to overhaul party democracy. The movement – Conservative Democratic Organisation – will have Lord Cruddas as president and aims to give members full say over candidate selections “with minimum interference by CCHQ [Conservative campaign headquarters]”, including the power to deselect MPs. The move has been endorsed by the former home secretary Priti Patel, who is also close to the former prime minister.

  • Jeremy Hunt has confirmed that he will announce plans to reduce energy support for businesses in the Commons next week, telling industry leaders it was “unsustainably expensive”. The chancellor has told business groups that a package providing support at a “lower level” than current measures would be available to them beyond March, promising to avoid a “cliff edge” in curtailing the subsidy.

  • The leader of Reform UK, Richard Tice, has offered a “cast-iron guarantee” the party will put up a candidate against every Conservative in the next general election, ruling out a 2019-style deal even if the Tories back some of his policies. After a speech to relaunch the party, which was level with the Liberal Democrats in some recent polls, Tice said Reform UK already had 600 candidates in place and would stand in every seat outside Northern Ireland.

That’s it from me, Tom Ambrose, for today. Thanks for following along. The UK politics live blog will be back tomorrow morning. Goodnight.

Pippa Crerar

Pippa Crerar

In his first big speech since taking over at No 10, Rishi Sunak promised “no tricks, no ambiguity” as he announced his five promises to reset the government after a difficult year.

The prime minister said he would be focusing on halving inflation, growing the economy, reducing debt, cutting NHS waiting lists, and stopping small-boat crossings to the UK.

“Those are the people’s priorities,” he told his audience. “We will either have achieved them or not. No tricks, no ambiguity. We’re either delivering for you or we’re not.”

Sunak does not have time on his side, with the next general election expected in autumn 2024 and the public struggling with the cost of living, the state of the NHS and strikes.

So his speech was designed primarily to reassure people that, after a catastrophic year for the Tories, he would be a steady hand on the tiller navigating the country through perilous waters.

It was also intended to take on his internal party critics who believe he has ripped up the mandate Boris Johnson won in 2019, that he is a bit too technocratic to win over the red wall, and that he lacks a big vision for the country.

At first glance, staking his premiership on a five-point plan to fix Britain while the country is in the grip of a series of crises, which show little sign of abating, looks like a bold move.

But while Sunak promised to do away with tricks and ambiguity, his success, or failure, appears to depend on exactly that.

Commenting on prime minister Rishi Sunak’s speech earlier today, the Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said:

By talking about improving the NHS while without even referring to pay, the prime minister is insulting the intelligence of the British people. He knows that the suppression of pay has led to the unsafe and unsustainable staffing levels at the heart of the NHS crisis.

By refusing to enter into pay negotiations that will be essential to any improvements in the health service, he has been responsible for an act of national self-harm. If he wants to take effective action on the NHS, we in the unions remain ready to enter into pay talks at any time.

Meanwhile, the PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said:

If Rishi Sunak is serious when he says he values public sector workers, then he would give our members an above-inflation pay rise to help them through the cost-of-living crisis and beyond.

If he is serious about having a reasonable dialogue, then he knows how to get hold of me. I’m waiting for his call. There’s no point in him saying the government’s door is always open when there’s no money on the table.

And if he is serious about stopping small boats crossing the channel, he should provide safe and legal routes for refugees.

To govern in difficult times, a prime minister needs a candid account of problems matched with credible solutions. Rishi Sunak provided neither in what had been billed as a significant policy speech on Wednesday. He referred fleetingly to Covid and the war in Ukraine as causes of the present difficulties, but there was no critical analysis of the way Britain has been governed in recent years.

Of course there wasn’t. To speak honestly about public services would have meant admitting that budget austerity has depleted provision and demoralised staff. To explain the economic malaise, the Tory leader would have had to acknowledge Brexit as national self-sabotage.

That would be a repudiation of positions held sacred by most Conservatives. Even if the prime minister saw the wisdom in such a volte face, his MPs would never permit it. Instead, Mr Sunak set out a plan to tinker in the margins of huge challenges. The smallness of his ambition was padded out with moralising banality.

The core message was a focus on “the people’s priorities” – health, education, antisocial behaviour, economic recovery and cross-Channel migration. This is an unintentional admission that the Tories have wasted 12 years obsessing about the wrong things, or taking bad decisions that make longstanding problems worse.

‘We’re either delivering or not’: Rishi Sunak’s five promises to voters – video

NHS waiting times are too long, Rishi Sunak has admitted in a new year’s speech in which he urges hospitals not to cancel elective surgeries despite the severe pressure on A&E departments.

During the Covid pandemic, Sunak said, the NHS drastically reduced scheduled surgeries, and he urged hospitals not to do so again, adding that the government was “open to conversation” with unions on “affordable” suggestions.

‘We need to do more’: Rishi Sunak makes NHS priority in new year speech – video

Why Sunak’s five promises won’t be much use in an election – but are better than nothing

Andrew Sparrow

Andrew Sparrow

Here is a question from below the line that I’ll answer up here because it’s a peg for making more points about Rishi Sunak’s five promises.

@AndrewSparrow are these Sunak pledges possibly a spring snap election manifesto?

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The short answer is no, for at least two reasons.

First, Rishi Sunak would be mad to hold a snap election in the spring. The Politico poll of polls currently gives Labour a 22-point lead over the Conservatives. He won’t call an election in those circumstances, and these five promises are not enough to shift the numbers. That because …

Second, these aren’t promises that have been weaponised for an election. To work well as election pledges, promises have to be 1) popular, 2) specific and memorable, and 3) hard for the other side to match.

The five Sunak promises will probably all be popular with voters. If you poll people, they are unlikely to say they are against reducing inflation, growing the economy, cutting NHS waiting lists etc.

But mostly they are not specific or memorable (unlike, say, the five pledges Labour made in 1997, which in some respects were very modest – “we will cut NHS waiting lists by treating an extra 100,000 patients as a first step” – but which were focused). And the first four at least are ones that Labour would happily endorse, so they have zero electoral wedge potential.

The fact that three of the pledges relate to the economy suggest Sunak is still thinking as a chancellor, not a prime minister. And he may be overestimating how grateful people will be for inflation being brought under control. If energy prices stop going up for the next 12 months, energy price inflation will be down to zero. But people will still be paying much higher prices than they used to.

The only promise that does read like a Lynton Crosby election trap for Labour is the final one, on small boats. But Sunak would not say what it actually meant. (See 3.59pm.)

That said, it would be a mistake to think that the promises are pointless. At the weekend Policy Exchange, a Tory thinktank, published a report on what the government should do in 2023. It included an extraordinary poll finding.

When asked what the government has done well on since 2019, over 30% of those who responded said ‘nothing’ – a figure that rises further when other, similar, answers are included. Covid and vaccines; Brexit; Ukraine; and furlough were positive achievements cited by respondents.

The report included the results as a word cloud.

What people say when asked what government has done since 2019
What people say when asked what government has done since 2019 Photograph: Policy Exchange

These promises are a response to that “nothing”. Tory candidates will at least have an answer when they campaign, and get asked what the government is doing, and by the time of the next election they should be able to list five promises made and five delivered (more or less). It won’t be a winning ploy, but it will be start, and an improvement on the status quo. This is how Robert Hutton from the Critic sums it up.

Digested Sunak: it won’t be easy, but give me time and I can start to fix the terrible legacy of this awful Tory government.

— Robert Hutton (@RobDotHutton) January 4, 2023

That is all from me for today. My colleague Tom Ambrose is now taking over.

Rishi Sunak only mentioned the word Brexit once in his speech, even though leaving the EU is by far the most consequential thing the government has done since 2019. Sunak voted leave in 2016 but, like many Brexiters, he may be eager to change the subject in the light of polling evidence showing that Brexit is increasingly seen as a mistake.

But he did talk about the potential benefits of Brexit in the Q&A. He was responding to a question about whether the government was really determined to go ahead with setting the end of this year as the deadline for when most retained EU regulations will automatically expire, unless a case-by-case review decides they should be retained. Sunak sidestepped this issue, but he said that it was important for the UK to draft its own regulations. He said:

In my speech I talked about the future economy that we need to build, and it’s an economy that’s built on innovation.

That is the best way for us to raise our growth rate, which is something I know everybody wants to see.

And a big part of that is making sure that we do seize the opportunities of Brexit, and make sure that our regulations are agile, that they support innovation and do so particularly in the growth industries of the future.

And that’s why the chancellor has talked about delivering exactly that, whether it’s in AI, whether it’s in quantum, whether it’s in life sciences or fintech.

Labour is repeatedly trying to depict Rishi Sunak as “weak” and Angela Rayner, the party’s deputy leader, has made that argument in her response to his speech today. She said:

This do-nothing prime minister is too weak to stand up to his party or vested interests. That means that from housing and planning laws to closing tax avoidance loopholes, he can’t take the big decisions to put the country first.

For weeks this speech was hyped up as his big vision – now he’s delivered it, the country is entitled to ask: is that it?

“Is that it?” was also a line used by Chris Mason, the BBC’s political editor, in his question to Rishi Sunak at the Q&A. Mason suggested that was what some people might think that when they heard what Sunak was saying about the NHS, and he asked Sunak to respond to suggestions he should be doing more to improve the situation in hospitals this winter.

Hunt confirms cut to ‘unsustainably expensive’ business energy support

Jeremy Hunt, the chancellor, has confirmed that he will announce plans to reduce energy support for businesses in the Commons next week, telling industry leaders it was “unsustainably expensive”, my colleague Alex Lawson reports.

Reform UK to field candidate against every Tory at next election, says leader

Richard Tice, the leader of the Reform UK party, has offered a “cast-iron guarantee” the party will put up a candidate against every Conservative in the next general election, ruling out a 2019-style deal even if the Tories back some of his policies, my colleague Peter Walker reports.

Ed Davey, the Lib Dem leader, says the Rishi Sunak speech shows he is “asleep at the wheel” when it comes to dealing with the NHS crisis. In a statement he says:

People will be dismayed that Rishi Sunak still doesn’t have a proper plan to deal with the crisis raging in the NHS. He is asleep at the wheel while patients are treated in hospital corridors and the health service is stretched to breaking point.

Families up and down the country are facing personal tragedies every day and this Conservative government either doesn’t understand or doesn’t care.

Ministers should have been working to tackle this crisis for months, instead they spent most of 2022 indulging in a Conservative party psychodrama. Now the whole country is paying the price.

Royal College of Nursing says Sunak’s speech shows he’s ‘detached from reality’ of what’s happening in NHS

Pat Cullen, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, says Rishi Sunak’s speech suggests he is “detached from the reality” of what is happening in the NHS. She made the comment in an open letter to Steve Barclay, the health secretary, released to the media. She said:

In the first week of January, many have come to expect performance challenges in the NHS. However, I am compelled to put on record that what is unfolding in England’s health service this week is far from ordinary ‘winter pressures’. Nor can Covid and flu be blamed for the current performance of the NHS.

In his speech this afternoon, the prime minister’s language appeared detached from the reality of what is happening and why. As far as the current NHS situation, it focused on false promise and hollow boasts when practical and urgent measures are required on the part of government.

Cullen said the shortage of healthcare workers was one of the main causes of the problems in the NHS. She said:

The responsibility for equipping publicly funded NHS and social care services so that they can meet the needs of the population lies squarely with the UK government. It is disingenuous to insist that these services are adequately resourced, when the evidence clearly demonstrates that they are at the point of collapse.

She also urged Barclay to reopen talks on the pay award before the next nurses’ strike later this month.

Pat Cullen.
Pat Cullen. Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA

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