Rishi Sunak Haunted by Ghosts of Past Prime Ministers – Politico

LONDON – “Back to her old self again” is how a former colleague described Liz Truss, who returned to the UK front page at the weekend.

This is exactly what Rishi Sunak and his associates feared.

Truss, who spent 49 tumultuous days at No. 10 Downing Street last year, is back. After a respectable period of 13 weeks of silence, the UK’s shortest-serving prime minister returned to the scene with a 4,000-word essay in the Sunday Telegraph complaining that his radical economic agenda had never been given a “realistic chance”.

In his first interview since stepping down, broadcast on Monday evening, he elaborated that he had faced “systemic resistance” to his plans as prime minister and had not received the “necessary level of political support” to change existing attitudes.

While the reception to Truss’ reintroduction hasn’t exactly been enthusiastic – much of the buzz has come from within his own party – it still presents a real headache for his successor, Sunak, who now has to juggle not one but two troubled former prime ministers. from the sidelines

Boris Johnson is also out of a job, but not far from the headlines. Recent engagements with the US media and high-profile trips to Kiev have ensured that his hard-line views on the situation in Ukraine are well publicized, even as he rakes in hundreds of thousands in fees from private speaking engagements around the world.

No time wasted

Both Truss and Johnson, typically, opted for a quicker and more vocal return to mainstream politics than many of their predecessors in the role.

“Most post-war prime ministers have been relatively luckier than their predecessors,” says Tim Bell, professor of politics at Queen Mary, University of London. “They tend to follow its lead [interwar Conservative PM] Stanley Baldwin, who promised in 1937: ‘When I’m gone, I’m gone. I’m not going to talk to the man on the bridge and I’m not going to spit on the deck.’

Such a method was not universal. Ted Heath, Prime Minister from 1970-74, made no secret of his disdain for his successor as Tory leader Margaret Thatcher. Thatcher in turn “behaved horribly” – in Bell’s words – to John Major, who succeeded her at Downing Street in 1990 after she was forced from office.

But recent Tory prime ministers have kept a respectful distance.

David Cameron resigned from parliament altogether after losing the EU referendum in 2016 and waited three years before publishing a memoir – reportedly to avoid “rocking the boat” during the ongoing Brexit negotiations.

And while Theresa May became an occasional libertarian-centric thorn in Boris Johnson’s side, she did so only after a series of cautious, low-profile contributions to the House of Commons on issues close to her heart, such as domestic abuse and rail services. His hometown is Maidenhead.

May’s former press secretary, Paul Harrison, said: “You might see ex-prime ministers being a bit more cautious about re-entering the political debate.” But then he [Truss] He was not a conventional prime minister in any sense of the word, so perhaps we should not be surprised that he did something very unconventional.”

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Paul Goodman, editor of the influential grassroots website Conservativehome, wrote that “instead of accepting, moving on and focusing on the future, he denies, digs up and re-imagines the past,” while Tory MP Richard Graham told Times Radio that Truss’ time office was “a That was the time [people] But don’t remember too clearly.”

“He was responsible for his own death and we are still cleaning up some of the mess,” said a long-serving Conservative MP. Another appraised his latest intervention with just an exploding-head emoji.

Transits forever

But despite Tory appeals for calm, Truss and Johnson’s refusal remains a serious concern for the man finally chosen to lead the party after Truss crashed and burned and Johnson thought better of trying to stage a comeback.

Between them, the two former prime ministers have the power to highlight Sunak’s two major weaknesses.

While Truss may not survive last September’s disastrous “mini-budget” that sent the UK economy off the rails, his broad policy agenda still holds sway over many Conservative MPs who believe they have no hope of winning the election without it.

That was the rationale behind last month’s formation of the Conservative Growth Group, a caucus of MPs who will carry the torch for lower taxes, a deregulated approach to government favored by the Trust and who continue to complain Sunak has little imagination when it comes to it. Supply Side Reforms.

Simon Clarke, who was a cabinet minister under Truss, emphasized He “thought long and hard” about why his approach had failed and “raised important questions” about how the UK models economic growth in his Telegraph piece.

Other Conservatives have advocated a reassessment of the Bank of England’s actions in the period surrounding the mini-budget, arguing that the Truss was unfairly blamed for the collapse in the bond market.

But Harrison doubts whether he can be the best advocate for the cause he represents. “There’s a question of whether it serves his interests best to push back against a strong conventional understanding of what happened so soon after leaving office.”

Johnson, meanwhile — to his fans, at least — continues to symbolize the star quality and ballot box appeal they fear Sunak lacks.

A government aide who worked with both men said Johnson’s strength lay in his “undeniable charisma” and persuasive power, while Sunak, more bluntly, was “all hard work”.

These apparent deficiencies led to a fear among Sunak’s MPs that he was ruling too tentatively and, as an ally recently put it, would have to rip out the “Kashmir jumper”.

It’s assumed that British prime ministers swing back and forth between “jocks” and “nerds” – and nothing is more likely to underline Sunak’s naivete than refusing to silence a pair of recently deposed jocks.

Trouble ahead

Unfortunately for Sunak, there are at least three big-ticket items coming up that should provide enough ground on which his nemesis can cause trouble.

One is the upcoming budget — the government’s annual public spending plan, due on March 15. Fear already.

Before that, Truss is expected to make his first public appearance outside the UK with a speech on Taiwan that could turn up the heat on Sunak over his views on relations with China.

A person close to him confirmed that China will be “a big thing” for him and is expected to be the theme of his future parliamentary interventions.

Then there is the small matter of the Northern Ireland Protocol, the thorniest unresolved aspect of the Brexit deal with Brussels where torturous negotiations appear to be reaching an endgame.

Sunak has been sitting on a draft version of a technical agreement since last week, according to several people with knowledge of the matter, and is now gearing up for the unenviable task of trying to forge a compromise deal that transcends both his own party and hardliners. Northern Irish unionists.

A Whitehall official working on the protocol said Johnson “absolutely” had the power to detonate that process and “should never be underestimated as an agent of chaos.”

One option presented by the audience is for Sunak to try to rally former prime ministers and get them to stand behind him on a matter of such great national and international significance. But as things stand, it is difficult to picture such a union.

At the heart of Johnson and Truss’ actions seems to be an essential instability in the explosive manner of their departure.

They seem destined to follow in Thatcher’s footsteps, as Bell puts it – “they don’t care how much trouble they put Sunak in, because in their eyes, she should never have taken over from them in the first place.”