As close / soon as a decade ago, government u-turning on flagship policies was cause for negative headlines splashed across the front pages. Since David Cameron departed Number 10 however, U-turns have become somewhat of a hallmark of recent UK Prime Ministers.
Of course, choppy waters internationally have their fair share of the blame. Brexit, COVID-19, supply chain crises and the war in Ukraine have rippled through UK society, its economy and its constitution, creating a smorgasbord of policy challenges that the UK has needed to urgently address.
But this Prime Minister, in what can only be interpreted as an effort to strengthen his political brand as the ‘corrector’ has within his first 50 days u-turned on many of his promises made in the leadership election, as well as those made in the Conservative manifesto in 2019 that gifted the Tories an 80 seat majority.
The Prime Minister’s first major u-turn was to reign-in many of the commitments made by his predecessor, Liz Truss in her mini-budget that sought to lower taxes across the economy to stimulate growth. This resulted in a quasi-currency crisis that led to her resignation. Other commitments broken early in Sunak’s tenure included promising not to attend COP27, which he then attended, as well as starting a Brexit Delivery Unit to review all 2,400 EU laws on the statute book, that could now be reneged on.
This week was a big one for ‘Su-turns’. In a letter sent to backbench Conservative MPs on Monday, the Housing Secretary, Michael Gove, rolled-back the government’s commitment to mandatory housing targets for local authorities. This was in the face of opposition and backlash from ‘Blue Wall’ Conservative MPs. This decision could have a profound effect on the nation’s income by reducing our exogenous demand. Rishi Sunak has seemingly made it a mission to distance himself from the Liz Truss wing of the Party that wants economic growth prioritised, siding with traditional NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) Tory voters.
Yesterday, the Government also announced a climb down on its upcoming Schools Bill. The Bill, introduced this year promised to raise educational standards across England encountered fierce opposition that claimed the bill would give sweeping and unprecedented powers to UK ministers over how academies operate.
Net-Zero efforts also took a hit this week at the hands of the Su-turn. The Prime Minister pledged in his leadership campaign more onshore wind windfarms, which due to more backlash from his ‘Blue Wall’ backbench MPs has now been watered down by giving local residents more say over where onshore windfarms can be built. This week the Prime Minister also gave the go-ahead for the UK’s first coal mining licence in three decades, showing how global factors have driven the PM to take decisions that challenge the Party’s commitments made in the last manifesto.
Next week is a new week - but camp Sunak will be hoping for less internal Party distractions.