• Mon. Dec 5th, 2022

Sunak’s First Speech as British Prime Minister: Political Rhetoric amidst Realistic Predicament



On 25th instant Rishi Sunak delivered his maiden speech as the new Prime Minister of UK from 10, Downing Street of Westminster London. It opened a new chapter in British politics since his name as Britain’s first Prime Minister of Indian origin already made umpteen sensations in social media with huge downpour of almost unreserved support that put him in high pedestal. And this was apart from the political confidence that he commands and enjoys in the emerging context after Lizz Truss’s untimely resignation.

No doubt, the crisis time Prime Minister in his first “I will unite our country” speech won the hearts of common people like a seasoned politician. Although he has not yet passed any major test, it appeared as if his voice echoed the semblance of political tact to take advantage of the system that revolves around the chair of Prime Minister to make room for himself. It might be a strategic act also to safeguard himself from the ongoing vulnerabilities in which his posture and personality combined to stylize his message. With it Sunak claims to emerge on the British political scene as a saviour of the nation. But to assert his role he no sooner would require vision to appeal to both his party and the masses at large. Although it would be too early to comment how successful he would eventually be or how his leadership style offers scope of comparison by the champions of the ‘presidential’ school of executive functioning. But the content of his speech and fiery delivery shows that he has deep knowledge of current crises and their interlinkage as well as his own responsibility in the face of the daunting challenges he would be asked to handle at a juncture which is far beyond the control of Great Britain. Yet he seems unwavering in his conviction, temerity and majestic élan with which he was out to convince the audience of the gravity of the situation and his volition to reach out to them and to take care of their concerns. This sense of understanding is amply clear and it qualifies him at the very outset for subsequent rounds quite satisfactorily.


However, I’m not a self-appointed advocate of the new British PM, but must we appreciate a few important points. First is that politics in Britain and for that matter in many West European countries now represents a new paradigm shift to ‘politics of aspiration’ from hitherto trend towards ‘politics of old class and party loyalties’. It seems Sunak realises it well and much success of his initiatives and policies would be built upon that sagacious understanding and action.


My second argument logically follows from the first. That is to say, if class based voting is steadily declining, it is likely to be replaced by issue based voting tendency. It is amply clear from the current state of affairs in Britain that the country is reeling under severe economic mess which is the prime issue of the hour. Even similar situation can be found in France where government proposed pension reforms has triggered labour strikes. The situation is alarming and any weakness in addressing the issues might linger political instability. Moreover, it would not be advisable to put blame on external environment and particularly Russia as responsible for all the ills plaguing the present British politics. Rather it is very important that Sunak detects the real thorn in the system and revamps the economy. It needs a balanced approach and not a dominating ego to design and push forward an activist agenda in a strident manner which at the moment might turn out to be counter-productive. So, it seems that while his stewardship rests on his personality, in practice he should be pragmatic enough to work through his cabinet with what we call collegiate approach rather than acting unilaterally which creates a trap for demagogues. Thus his future objectively puts him on a tight rope walk between sort of ‘presidential model’ and ‘chairmanship model’.


We understand that it is quite delicate and onerous requiring continuous struggle to reconcile pulls and pressures to earn credibility. Yet it is our common knowledge that successful leaders, not to speak of incumbent Prime Minister, inter alia, needs extraordinary ability to work hard and sharp intelligence to identify goals. Now that Britain’s economic front is precarious we think the new Premier would be called upon to plug the gaps in the economy. So while it calls for urgent fire-fighting to implement some measures promptly and competently to soothe wounds which is important and inescapable, it would be risky to ignore the aspect of long-term reforms for sustainability. For that debates and discussions both inside cabinet and within civil society and think tanks need to be encouraged rather than unduly deflecting the attention to the bogey of Russian bellicosity that the latter has caused the real damage to worldwide supply chain. So Britain needs prodigious policies avoiding either populist concessions or trimming welfare entitlements and while doing so, it needs to be strict on issues of idleness and corruption. One of the reasons of corruption and lack of accountability of executive in today’s British politics can be traced to erosion of Parliament’s power to effectively check the government. So, what we find is that overtly patronizing executive functioning is turning into a veritable nexus that undermines constitutionalism. It might happen also because unlike the US, “a change in Downing Street does not bring in policy makers from a different part of the country”. This again indicates an inbuilt constraint of a centralised London-based population that fails to break free of the stereotype in which one cannot expect flow of radical ideas. Besides, if we take into account the comment of Anthony Crosland, a former labour minister who said “It takes you six months to get your head properly above water, a year to get the general drift of most of the field and two years really to master the whole of a department”, then we can gauge the predicament of the new British premier despite his rhetoric under compulsion.

(The article is solely the opinion of the authors. The views expressed here are solely personal and not in any way connected to any organisation or any political party ).

Dr. Gauri Shankar Nag

(Author: Dr. Gouri Sankar Nag ( Professor & Head, Department of Political Science, Sidho-Kanho-Birsha University, Purulia,)

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