Ian Mansfield: Sunak needs less rhetoric and more to win the next election

Ian Mansfield is director of research at Policy Exchange.

Rishi Sunak’s first hundred days stabilized both the economy and elections. Unfortunately for the Conservatives, the subsequent stability has meant consistently 20-25 points behind Labour.

His own personal ratings do not match those of the Conservatives and, on almost all issues, polling shows Labor is more confident to deliver.

Some of these could be argued to be natural consequences of economic headwinds: inflation, a global energy crisis, and a winter of strikes do not create a promising backdrop for political recovery.

An underlying problem, however, is the legacy of ‘cakeism’. The Tories have consistently over-promised and under-delivered, and there is now growing skepticism about the government’s intentions or delivery of powers.

Over the past two years, governments have increasingly appeared to prioritize short-term positive headlines or managing stakeholders, rather than asking what needs to be done to achieve real results and bring about change.

The problem is that, sooner or later, the public catches on. This is demonstrated by the four areas considered here – small boats, childcare, culture and growth – where governments have consistently prioritized rhetoric over results.

small boat

The number of people crossing the Channel illegally has increased year on year and is expected to top 45,000 in 2022. It has become abundantly clear that the UK cannot and will not control its borders.

The Rwanda Plan, launched with much fanfare nearly a year ago, has not deported a single person. Despite passing a new Nationality and Borders Act last year, the government has failed to use its majority to protect the policies it wants to enact from legal challenges.

The scale of government failure is such that more people trust Labor than the Conservatives to control immigration.

Sunak’s suggestion that the government is willing to abandon the ECHR does not address the heart of the problem: it must be willing to put forward a bill that will actually work.

The elements of such a law are straightforward, and were set out in a policy exchange paper last year:

  • Place a clear duty on the Home Secretary and officials to swiftly deport those crossing the Channel illegally, whether to safe third countries such as Rwanda or the British Overseas Territories.
  • Set out that any such person who enters illegally will never be eligible to live in the UK legally.
  • It is expressly stated that nothing in other laws such as the Human Rights Act or the Modern Slavery Act shall be used to frustrate the operation of this Bill.

If the government really wants to stop channel crossings, it knows what to do.

child care

Rising child care costs are placing an increasing toll on growing family budgets and hurting the economy by making it unprofitable for parents – usually women – to return to work.

The issue is not the level of government support: the UK has a large subsidy as part of the net household. Rather, it’s a suffocating and overregulated market: Regulation has forced nearly half of childminders out of the industry in the past decade, raising costs for individuals and taxpayers.

As with housing, another over-regulated sector, in recent years governments have chosen to subsidize demand only rather than increase supply; This had the expected consequences. On the supply side, we are now waiting almost nine months for a response to a set of modest and unsolicited proposals from the Department of Education.

To really move the dial, governments must go much further, particularly – as the Policy Exchange report points out, Improved childcare – Dramatically de-regulates childminders and removes state-imposed barriers that prevent parents from finding the childcare they need.


Almost every week a minister is in the news railing against the so-called vigilante problem.

Yet this cuts little ice with a public that sees an NHS and education system captured by gender ideology, a police force that the public believes is “more interested in waking up than solving crime”, and a civil service in which Home Office counter-terrorism officers are pronouns. Lessons are being given.

Repeated polls by Policy Exchange have found the UK on the brink of a shift in social values ​​and attitudes to British history.

The civil service and the wider public sector increasingly believe that equality and diversity principles sit outside the normal principles of impartiality and ministerial responsibility, instead forming a separate body Where normal rules do not apply.

When Sajid Javid, as health secretary, ordered the NHS to drop the word woman, officials agreed, perhaps changing the particular example he was referring to, but then carried on as before.

In schools, the (non-mandatory) political neutrality guidelines published last year, and the underlying legislation, have been largely ignored. Self-ID has become the norm in prisons and court systems, although the government categorically rejects it.

Real change does not come from cabinet ministers tinkering, but from legislative and procedural reforms. At a minimum, the public sector equality duty – a permissive charter for radicals – must be scrapped. This could be done through a simple one-clause bill, repealing sections 149-157 of the Equality Act 2010. Ideally sections 158-159, the loopholes allowing so-called affirmative action, would be abolished simultaneously.

This should be followed by a clear, fully enforced, ban on promoting critical race theories or gender ideologies within the public sphere; the abolition of the equality, diversity and inclusion role; tighter control of identity-based ‘staff networks’, which lobbied publicly and internally against official government policies; and stopping the recording of ‘non-criminal hate incidents’ by the police.

Reform is possible in this area, but happens through changes in laws, not rhetoric and bluster.


The Prime Minister has made growing the economy one of her five promises – but has yet to implement the serious reforms needed to do so.

In an economy with high inflation and high levels of job vacancies, this comes not from unfunded tax cuts, but from systemic supply-side reforms aimed at reducing regulatory burdens and unleashing financial and human capital.

We have already discussed childcare. Planning reform stalled in the Commons; It takes up to 13 years to build a wind farm.

More broadly, with reforms to Solvency 2 pulling off some of the good work of capital disclosure, the government has little appetite for the kind of real regulatory reform that we called for in our report last summer. Re-engineering regulations. It appears more keen to impose new burdens on businesses, such as new requirements for an anti-terrorism plan in every venue with more than 100 people.

It’s Sunak’s first day. There is still time for the government to take serious action on these issues – especially since none of them require new money, just political will.

In the end, the choice for the government is simple.

Does it actually want to stop small boats, or just set up a narrative of being let down by the courts?

Does it really want to make childcare more affordable for parents, or is it more interested in appeasing price-gouging interests?

Does it want to stop the spread of divisive, far-left ideology in the public sector, or does it just want good headlines? The Daily Telegraph?

Does it want to kick-start our economy out of lower gear and deliver growth, or are all the necessary decisions too difficult?

The public has lost faith in Kal Jam; It is no longer willing to give ministers the benefit of the doubt.

Rhetoric has run its course. In the next election, if it hopes to be re-elected, the government must deliver visible results.