Rishi Sunak shifts priorities to closing holes in a sinking ship | Rishi Sunak

When Rishi Sunak was chancellor, aides and finance ministers said he was deeply ingrained in the details, able to memorize spreadsheets or reports by chapter number. Prime Minister’s job is a very different one, which his close associates say in No. 10 he is beginning to understand involves choosing very specific priorities.

Sunak has suggested to MPs who have seen him recently that he has three main priorities for his premiership: stabilizing the economy, tackling small boat crossings in the Channel and easing pressure on the NHS.

The striking thing about those priorities is that none of them are Sunak’s own vision or even really his choice. It is government as management – almost the opposite of Liz Truss, who ruled by ideology above all else.

But Sunak’s management style is likely his only means of survival, as the severity of the crises will affect the next two years of his premiership.

There is very little in the fall statement that tells us anything about Sunak’s ideas for growth, with heavily diluted investment zones, stalled reform plans and an unwillingness to pursue green investments, including enforcing the ban on onshore wind.

For the most part he acts like a prime minister who has understood that he probably only has two years in number 10 and has very little time to build a legacy other than plug some holes in a sinking boat .

That sense of a government in pure survival mode has trickled down to Conservative MPs – who employ their own tactics. Some have checked out completely, as seen in the muted response to the autumn statement, where Conservative MPs nodded at the tax increases after previously ranting against them under Boris Johnson.

Others abandon any pretense of appealing to anything other than their own local issues. The most obvious illustration of that is a major uprising brewing over the bill, with nearly 50 MPs signing a bill to abolish all housing targets.

Labor will not support the amendment and in normal times a government could confront the rebels and tell them where to go.

But both department sources and MPs have suggested the prime minister is unwilling to risk another hole in the boat. His authority rests on the consensus choice as prime minister; he derives his mandate exclusively from MPs.

If Sunak loses his parliamentary majority in an early vote – and has to rely on Labor – he will effectively lose his mandate. MPs therefore expect a compromise to be found on housing targets, which could lead to further economic paralysis.

There are many other issues Sunak could continue to stumble through as a result – the online bill that has seen MPs, including some in his own cabinet, raise concerns about “legal but harmful” definitions of content in the law.

Another rebellion is brewing on landwinds – backed by Boris Johnson, Truss and her secretary Simon Clarke, as well as MPs across the party. And that line could be longer, with MP Chris Skidmore delivering a net zero review in early January.

Sunak must also decide quickly what to do about the freeze in energy prices – for homes and businesses – when the scheme expires in April and eye-watering increases are still forecast.

The anger of MPs over small boats crossing the Channel and the need to house refugees in more and more hotels is also still unabated.

And the NHS has yet to reach the peak of the winter crisis, with suggestions already being made that the government should consider military aid for the health service or reopen Nightingale hospitals.

All of these issues must be addressed before Sunak can even begin to consider what his own agenda might be. But then he also faces the prospect of having very little to say in the next election – apart from pronouncing even more cuts.

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