Britain’s new leader will need to make people his first priority

Rishi Sunak plainly thinks that meeting an arbitrary target of reducing national debt is more important than saving people from penury

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Editorials

October 26, 2022 - 7:27 PM

Britain's newly appointed Prime Minister Rishi Sunak waves as he poses outside the door to 10 Downing Street on October 25, 2022, after delivering his first speech as prime minister. (DANIEL LEAL/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)

It is a sign of democratic progress that Britain’s next prime minister will be of Indian heritage. The Conservative party is not the natural home for many of the country’s non-white voters. Yet so many Tory MPs wanted Rishi Sunak to be their leader that he was elected unopposed. Mr. Sunak will be the first prime minister of color and the first Hindu in Downing Street. His elevation during Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, will be a source of pride for many of his co-religionists — and for Britain’s political system.

The Tories have now had three female prime ministers, four non-white chancellors and Mr. Sunak as prime minister. The Conservative party can with good reason claim that identity is not a bar to the highest office in the land. Labor cannot say the same. In politics, symbols are important. But images themselves are powerless. Mr. Sunak, the country’s youngest prime minister in modern times, ascended to the top job without saying how he would deal with a looming recession and rocketing inflation.

The new prime minister is the richest man in parliament. Despite having no popular mandate, he did little to reassure people who are worried sick about rising costs or lengthening NHS waits. The emergency is real. Yet Mr. Sunak seems intent on turning off household support for energy bills next April. He plainly thinks that meeting an arbitrary target of reducing national debt is more important than saving people from penury. Without fiscal expansion and the energy price guarantee, inflation will be higher and the recession deeper. Interest rates are likely to rise. Analysts at Morgan Stanley say borrowing costs for homes could hit 6%, which — along with higher utility bills — would see up to 40% of households struggle to pay their mortgage.

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