‘Serious, realistic’: Rishi Sunak’s first speech as PM dissected

New prime minister says UK faces ‘profound economic crisis’ and admits ‘mistakes were made’

Rishi Sunak addresses the nation for the first time as PM in Downing Street
Sunak speaking in Downing Street after meeting the King
(Image credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Rishi Sunak used his first speech as prime minister to admit that “some mistakes were made” by his predecessor Liz Truss. Part of his job, he said, is “to fix them”.

Speaking outside No. 10 having been asked to form a government by King Charles at Buckingham Palace, the new PM warned there were “difficult decisions to come” as he sought to put the economy on a stable footing. He also signalled the likelihood of public spending cuts and tax rises after vowing he would not “leave the next generation, your children and grandchildren, with a debt to settle that we were too weak to pay ourselves”.

Setting out his priorities he cited “a stronger NHS, better schools, safer streets, control of our borders, protecting our environment, supporting our armed forces, levelling up and building an economy that embraces the opportunities of Brexit, where businesses invest, innovate and create jobs”.

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And as a way of countering claims that his appointment means a general election should be held, he argued the mandate earned by the Conservatives in 2019 did not belong to any individual but to the party as a whole.

“That won’t stop calls for a general election though. And it won’t stop criticism of the Conservative Party over the economy,” said the BBC’s Nick Eardley, adding that never had a prime minister so quickly sought to “draw a line under their predecessor’s reign”.

‘Magnanimous in victory’

The Telegraph’s Tony Diver wrote that Sunak “did everything he could to be magnanimous in victory”.

“There was none of the usual carnival atmosphere outside No10 when a new Prime Minister takes office. Mr Sunak spoke without a gaggle of MPs and aides behind him and did not smile as he waved to the cameras before heading inside.

“The message was clear: Difficult decisions (and budget cuts) are on the way. This is no time for celebrating. But I’m in charge now, at last.”

Liz Bates, political correspondent at Sky News, agreed that the lack of fanfare was a deliberate decision to “reflect the seriousness of the challenges the country faces as he takes over at Number 10”.

She added: “His style of leadership also came across clearly – he will ‘work day and night’ to win back the trust of voters and put integrity at the heart of his reign”. Bates concluded that it was “a competent speech that will calm his colleagues and reassure many voters that he understands the task ahead”.

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Great oratory, this wasn’t

ITV News also picked up on the absence of supporters in Downing Street to greet the new prime minister. Political editor Robert Peston said that Sunak was “not underestimating the magnitude of the problems he faces” and he also highlighted the emphasis the new prime minister placed on restoring trust.

In The Spectator’s afternoon newsletter, Isabel Hardman wrote “fixing problems was the theme of the address” which was “very to the point”.

“Given the scale of what has happened and the clearing up that Sunak has to do, it’s understandable that he didn’t offer further pledges. But it also sets his new government up, not as one campaigning for victory, but trying to stop things from getting worse – for the Conservative party and for the country,” she said.

“That was not a speech likely to be remembered for long,” wrote The Guardian’s Andrew Sparrow. “But the tone was welcome (serious, realistic)”, conveying a sense of “candour” and “politeness”.

Great oratory this wasn’t, said Sparrow, “but it suggests not just that Sunak is serious about uniting the party, but that he has some of the personal skills required to achieve this”, he added.

The Daily Mail, a vocal supporter of Liz Truss during the summer’s Tory leadership campaign, said Sunak had “plunged the knife” into his predecessor during a “sombre” speech, but also sought to rebut “jibes that he is too wealthy to identify with the struggles of ordinary people” by stressing he understood how hard things are.

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