Rishi Sunak on Wednesday outlined five promises on which he wants the public to judge him at the next general election, including growing the UK economy and cutting NHS waiting lists.
In his first big domestic policy speech as prime minister, Sunak said he wanted to deliver “peace of mind” to a country confronted by a recession, strikes and a meltdown in important public services, notably the NHS.
Identifying what he called the “people’s priorities”, Sunak promised to halve inflation, grow the economy, reduce the public debt burden, cut NHS waiting lists and “stop the boats” illegally carrying people across the English Channel. Some of his self-imposed tests on the economy appeared straightforward to pass.
Sunak also confirmed his plan to require all young people in England to study some form of mathematics until the age of 18, although the objective would only be met if the Conservatives win the next election.
“We will rebuild trust in politics through action, or not at all,” he told an audience at the Olympic Park in east London. “So I ask you to judge us on the effort we put in and the results we achieve.” The Tories are running far behind Labour in opinion polls.
Several of the economic tests that Sunak set himself for this parliament are broadly in line with what independent economists and the Bank of England expect to happen.
Economists estimate UK consumer price inflation passed its peak in November last year, when it fell to 10.7 per cent, and forecasters expect the rate to halve this year.
The BoE, even under its most pessimistic forecast, expects the economy to be growing by the end of 2024. Sunak’s pledge to reduce public debt was not sufficiently clear to determine whether it is easy to achieve.
His promise to cut record NHS waiting lists — more than 7mn patients in England were waiting for non-urgent hospital treatment last month — is politically vital, but he did not say how big a reduction he hoped to achieve.
The pledge comes amid warnings by senior health service officials about the unprecedented strain on the NHS as a result of rising flu and Covid-19 cases, the waiting list backlog, industrial action and staff vacancies.
Sunak also confirmed he would pass new laws to ensure that anybody arriving in the UK illegally would be detained and swiftly deported, although his pledge to “stop the boats” may prove hard to achieve.
Nadine Dorries, a former Tory cabinet minister and close ally of ex-prime minister Boris Johnson, was scathing of Sunak’s programme and mocked his plan “to teach maths for longer with teachers we don’t yet even have”.
“Three years of a progressive Tory government being washed down the drain,” she said on Twitter.
Dorries also claimed Sunak was going to abandon a promised “bonfire of EU legislation”.
Labour also criticised Sunak’s maths pledge. Bridget Phillipson, shadow education secretary, said: “He cannot deliver this reheated, empty pledge without more maths teachers, yet the government has missed their target for new maths teachers year after year, with existing teachers leaving in their droves.”