11:37 JST, October 26, 2022
Britain faces serious domestic and economic challenges. Can the new prime minister unite the people and maintain support for Ukraine and sanctions against Russia? The 42-year-old leader’s abilities will be put to the test.
Rishi Sunak was selected without a vote as leader of Britain’s ruling Conservative Party and became prime minister. Sunak is of Indian origin and the first non-white prime minister in British history. His predecessor, Liz Truss, was forced to step down just 1½ months after taking up the post due to her failed economic policies.
Sunak emphasized that his top priority is the stability and unity of Britain. Restoring the confidence of financial markets that said “no” to Truss’ policies is an urgent task.
Sunak, who comes from the financial world and has also served as the finance minister, has stressed the importance of fiscal consolidation, criticizing Truss for coming out with massive tax cut policies without the backing of financial resources.
The British public is suffering from a sharp increase in the cost of living and electricity and other charges. Sunak must steer the government by dealing with the difficult challenges of restoring fiscal health while seeking the public’s understanding of the increased burden, which is mainly due to postponing tax cuts, and at the same time providing assistance to those who truly need it.
Efforts to dispel persistent public distrust in politics are also urgently needed.
Sunak is the fifth Conservative prime minister since David Cameron left office in 2016.
Divisions within the party over whether to leave the European Union and a spate of scandals under the administration of former Prime Minister Boris Johnson have had a lingering adverse effect on the party.
The Conservative Party made it a condition of candidacy in the latest leadership race that at least 100 lawmakers of the House of Commons must endorse a candidate in order to prevent a flood of candidates. Sunak’s selection as party leader less than a week after Truss announced her resignation may be a sign of the party’s strong sense of urgency.
The approval rating of the Conservative Party is 19%, far behind the 56% of the largest opposition Labour Party. It may not be easy for Sunak to garner broad bipartisan support.
Sunak has served as a lower house member for seven years, but has little diplomatic experience. It is hoped that he will swiftly build a relationship with the leaders of the Group of Seven advanced nations, including Japan and the United States, and expedite efforts to coordinate policies on Russia.
What is worrisome is that Sunak’s stance toward China is unclear. In the past, Sunak has said he attaches importance to Britain’s economic relationship with China as long as Britain’s national security is protected.
Dealing with China’s moves to change the status quo by force has become a common challenge for the international community. In recent years, Britain has also increased its involvement in the Indo-Pacific region, including the deployment of its state-of-the-art aircraft carrier to the region. Sunak should not let down his guard against China.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 26, 2022)