Have Rishi Sunak's first 100 days been a success or failure?

Rishi Sunak.
Rishi Sunak. Illustrated | Gettyimages

Rishi Sunak was elected leader of the U.K.'s Conservative Party and appointed prime minister in October 2022. He took office as the country was embroiled in political turmoil: Boris Johnson resigned after being "dragged down by scandal," Reuters writes. Johnson's successor, Liz Truss, was marred by an economic and cost-of-living crisis. She was ousted after just 50-days in power, making hers the shortest premiership in British history. After all this, Sunak was seen by the Tory Party as "a steady hand on the tiller navigating the country through perilous waters," The Guardian says.

But has he fared any better than his beleaguered predecessors? He faces mounting criticisms and has been lambasted as an out-of-touch elitist. As Sunak rounds out 100 days in office, here's a look at how he's doing so far.

Sunak has swiftly broken his promises

"The early signs are not good," writes Moya Lothian-McLean for The New York Times. In a speech in early January, he laid out his economic agenda for 2023, telling the British people he would "halve inflation, grow the economy, reduce debt, cut waiting lists, and stop the boats." Yet he seems clueless as to how to reverse Britain's economic trajectory and is deeply "at odds with public opinion" on support for public sector workers, who are staging strike after strike.

To his credit, Sunak has stood firm on the economy, having "stressed the importance of tackling inflation and getting the public finances back on a sustainable path," says Gavi Cordon at the Evening Standard. He refuses to give in to demands for tax cuts, or pay raises for striking workers. But this has only exacerbated the problem, kicking off more industrial action and contributing to the "sense that Britain is somehow not working."

He is 'pitifully weak'

Sunak appears "a terrible judge of character" and "incapable of mastering his government," writes The Observer's chief political commentator Andrew Rawnsley at The Guardian. He missed one of his first chances to distance himself from the scandals of his party when he dragged his feet on the firing of his own party chairman Nadhim Zahawi over a tax fraud scandal and a "serious breach" of the Ministerial Code. "New prime minister, same old stink," Rawnsley says.

He's "pitifully weak," Euan McColm writes for The Scotsman. A strong leader would be able to control his party and oust "problematic colleagues immediately and dare his members to defy his decision-making." Not so with Rishi, who instead bowed to "those he feared might challenge his authority."

Sunak's government "seems to bring new crises and labor strife in essential public services," the editorial board of the Financial Times writes. The Zahawi tax scandal "will bolster voter impressions that senior Tories inhabit a different reality and consider themselves above normal rules ... That is especially damaging when many families are battling with a vicious cost of living squeeze."

He inherited a mess

"It was never going to be easy" for Sunak, writes Therese Raphael for Bloomberg. He is dealing with the "hangover of last year's turmoil," and this year isn't looking much easier, with "waves of strike action, reports of alarming ambulance wait times, and a jittery pound." He probably has some compelling ideas for governing but right now, he's too caught up in "immediate crisis-fighting" to act on them.

Indeed, it's not fair to pin all of the Conservative Party's woes on the new prime minister, Rafael Baer writes for The Guardian. Don't forget, the party "spent 2022 at war with itself," and many of the problems plaguing Sunak were either directly caused or made worse by the "negligent mismanagement" of prime ministers prior. "He can't repudiate them without disinterring the grievances that his accession was meant to bury."

Time to bring back Boris?

Some in government still hold a candle for former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and it appears Tory voters do, too. One survey found that Conservative voters would prefer him to Sunak, "which could boost the former leader's chances of a comeback," reports the i news site.

Local elections are coming in May, and they're "likely to be appalling for the Tories," writes Sean O'Grady at The Independent. That means there will be calls for a new leader, and talk of Johnson's return will "reach a crescendo." But Sunak isn't going anywhere. He may not have had the best first 100 days in office, but "the sheer horror at having to change leader again" will be enough to keep him in the top position, for better or worse. 

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