“Some mistakes were made.”
With that four-word missive in his first speech as Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak made very clear that he wants to distance himself as far as possible from his politically radioactive predecessor, Liz Truss.
It was an unusually blunt appraisal of his colleague, but it’s clear to see why Sunak wants to present himself as (yet another) fresh face for Britain. Truss’s tenure brought disaster for the UK’s economy, and Sunak has pitched himself as the man to balance the books and bring stability to the country.
He will begin that task later on Tuesday when he starts appointing his Cabinet. Some expect an olive branch to those on the right wing of the party, but Sunak must balance unity with harmony after another spell of chaos in Downing Street.
It also remains to be seen whether the economic debate within the Conservative Party has truly been settled.
In her own 416-word farewell speech — eight words for each day she served as leader — Liz Truss omitted any apologies for the impact of her fiscal plan.
Instead, Truss tried one last time to defend her vision. “We simply cannot afford to be a low-growth country where the government takes up an increasing share of our national wealth,” Truss said, calling for “lower taxes” and an emphasis on growth.
Truss could seek to parlay what remains of her political capital by becoming an outspoken backbencher. Sunak must also deal with the continued presence of his rival, Boris Johnson, and the considerable appeal he still holds in the party. And he must bat back calls for a general election from a Labour Party that is soaring in opinion polls after a year of crisis at the top of the ruling group.
With potential enemies on all sides and dire economic headwinds on the horizon, some might wonder why Sunak even wants the job.
But “when the opportunity to serve comes along, you cannot question the moment, only your willingness,” Sunak said outside Downing Street.
That willingness may be tested in the months to come. For now, though, Sunak has clinched the job he coveted at the second attempt, on a historic day for Britain.