Rishi Sunak will return the Conservative party to the policies of the 2019 manifesto, one of his key allies has said, acknowledging it had been a “brutal six weeks in politics”.
The former Home Office minister Victoria Atkins, tipped to get a high-profile role in Sunak’s administration, said the outgoing prime minister, Liz Truss, would agree she “stepped away from the 2019 manifesto” that won the Tories an 80-seat majority.
Atkins told Sky News: “Rishi said we will stick to the 2019 manifesto. It’s as simple as that,” adding it meant a focus on levelling up, the NHS and crime, continuing with the legislation started under Boris Johnson.
“We want to continue all of these pieces of work as we deal with this very, very difficult issue of our domestic economy in the context of the international problems that other countries are facing as well,” she said.
“So I appreciate that … it’s been a brutal six weeks in politics for lots of people. It’s been a very fast pace. But we now, behind Rishi, will have a stability and confidence and reassurance that I hope will begin to make a real difference to people’s lives over the coming weeks and months.”
Atkins told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the public would hear much more of Sunak’s agenda in the coming hours, after he was criticised for a very short public statement on Monday and giving a speech only behind closed doors to Conservative MPs.
“This is an enormous set of challenges. We have people listening at home who will be very, very worried about paying their bills, about the cost of food, of energy and so on.
“And so we have got to try to bring a bit of stability and calmness to this situation so that people know that Rishi – having looked after us all during the pandemic – will be able to bring those skills to this current set of challenges as well.”
She said Sunak had offered a comforting image to Conservative MPs, similar to his persona through the Covid crisis, when he promised the government would take care of citizens in financial difficulty – though the furlough and support schemes did exclude certain groups.
“We will see more of Rishi in that mode … reassuring us,” Atkins said. “We’ve seen it as we were all huddled around our televisions during lockdown and were reassured by Rishi saying, ‘This is what I’m going to do for you, we’re going to put our arms around you’, and so I’m very confident that we will see more of Rishi in that mode, if you like, reassuring us, stabilising the markets.”
Sunak’s ascent to the leadership, which did not involve a vote in parliament or in the party because his rivals failed to reach the nomination threshold, has been divisive.
“My membership, the officers and some of our current councillors and candidates are very unhappy,” she told Today. He did get the support of a large number of MPs in parliament.
“But those MPs are reliant on the grassroots of the party … they have made the grassroots of the party feel used, not needed. The Conservative party is a very big machine, and they have excluded a very large part of it.”
Wood said she did not believe Sunak had integrity as leader. “I do not think he will unite the party and I do not think, based on public opinion that I’m seeing, on a lot of media that he has the confidence of the country.”
But Daphne Bagshawe, the chair of the Wealden Conservatives, said the process had been followed “absolutely properly” and it was right the new prime minister “can now get on with the job that needs to be done, and I really think the country wants us to get on with that job”.
She added: “From what people are saying to me, they are determined to unite behind Rishi Sunak and I think the country will be too. I sense that the country trusts Rishi Sunak, they know that he is kind … they know he is competent, they saw what he did during the pandemic, and we are going to need that type of control.”
Source: The Guardian