Concerns were raised that Rishi Sunak may have already mentally disengaged from his role today after Conservative party members criticized the lack of significant proposals in the King’s Speech. Yesterday, the Prime Minister outlined his agenda for the upcoming year, emphasizing that the country had made progress and it was time to build a brighter future. However, many Conservatives were underwhelmed by the limited measures to tackle crime, the cautious approach to the Net Zero initiative, and the phased ban on cigarette sales, especially with a general election on the horizon. As a result, there is growing pressure on Chancellor Jeremy Hunt to introduce attention-grabbing tax cuts at the Autumn Statement on November 22, as it is seen as the last opportunity to avoid an election disaster. Hunt has been downplaying the possibility of significant tax cuts, citing stretched public finances and the potential for inflation. Nevertheless, economists argue that there is some flexibility due to higher-than-expected tax revenues and slightly lower borrowing.
During the Commons debate on the King’s Speech, Sunak attempted to criticize the Labour Party, claiming that their policies would lead to higher inflation, more strikes, increased immigration, and greater borrowing. He argued that Labour’s plan to borrow an additional £28 billion annually and give in to union demands for higher wages would be dangerous and inflationary, resulting in higher interest rates and taxes for the British people. Sunak also criticized Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer’s proposal to ban new oil and gas exploration, stating that it would make the UK more dependent on Russia and that Starmer’s opposition was selective, targeting only British oil and gas. Sunak emphasized that the government is committed to pursuing Net Zero in a cost-effective manner for working people. In response, Starmer described the King’s Speech as a missed opportunity and dismissed Sunak’s attempt to position himself as a candidate for change as desperate.
Some Conservative MPs privately expressed their disappointment with the King’s Speech, noting the absence of significant and voter-friendly proposals. They believed that the lack of substantial ideas would increase the pressure on Chancellor Jeremy Hunt to introduce tax cuts before the election. One minister commented that while the speech was acceptable, it lacked big ideas, and considering the party’s lagging position in the polls, they felt that everything should be done to address this. There was a sense that No 10 had given up.
A former Cabinet minister echoed these sentiments, stating that there were no big ideas in the speech and that the focus on artificial intelligence, while important, was not sufficient to appeal to voters. They emphasized the need for the Autumn Statement to include better and more pro-growth measures, including tax cuts. Another minister who attended a drinks event with Sunak expressed the feeling that he had mentally checked out and was already looking forward to his final hours and future sightseeing trips.
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