Rishi Sunak, With Elite Pedigree, Must Now Sell Britain on Austerity


“Sunak is going to have to try somehow to hold together an electorate that is about to be pounded,” Professor Goodwin said. “How on earth, in that economic context, do you hold together an electorate that has become more working class and more economically precarious than it was in the 2010s?”

In postponing most of the spending cuts until after the next election, Mr. Hunt did put off some of the pain. He also confronted Labour with a dilemma because the party will be challenged on whether it would stick to those plans if elected.

When Labour last came to power, in 1997, it adhered to the outgoing Conservative government’s fiscal plans for two years after winning power. But doing so this time would be a big constraint. At a time of proliferating labor unrest, Mr. Sunak may also try to exploit Labour’s ties to trade unions.

The opposition, some analysts said, should emphasize the damage that would be done to Britain’s public services if the spending cuts proposed by Mr. Hunt were carried out. Unlike the last round of austerity, engineered by Prime Minister David Cameron in 2010, there is far less fat to cut this time.

“If I were Labour, I would say, ‘You’re still proposing very large pay cuts for public servants and for public services, which are already flat on their backs,’” said Jonathan Portes, a professor of economics and public policy at Kings College London. “We need to rebuild the public sector.”

There is no evidence in polling that Mr. Sunak’s family wealth is, by itself, a problem for voters. But the disclosure of his wife’s tax status almost derailed his political career last April because, analysts said, it raised fairness issues. His thin-skinned reaction to the criticism, they said, revealed a lack of political instincts.

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