Rishi Sunak speech analysis: what he said and what he meant in first speech as Prime Minister

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From acknowledging government mistakes to promising to deliver the Conservative Party manifesto, here are some of the key points new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak made in his first speech outside Number 10.

Rishi Sunak today (25 October) made his first official speech as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

Shortly after meeting with King Charles III at Buckingham Palace, the new Prime Minister addressed onlookers, fellow MPs, and most importantly, the public, to set the tone for his new administration and outline some key priorities. While his acceptance speech yesterday (24 October) was remarkably brief, and criticised by many for giving no real indication of his plans for office, today’s address was more detailed and specific - and left lots to be chewed over.

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In contrast with many of his predecessors, Sunak’s tone was sombre and contained no sense of celebration at having been chosen as Conservative Party leader, and, consequently, Prime Minister. He spoke of the “profound economic crisis” the country has been facing and warned once again of the “difficult decisions” he’s facing.

But perhaps what was most interesting was Sunak’s clear desire to distance himself from - and even openly criticise - the previous governments. He did pay “tribute” to the previous prime ministers, but also spoke of the “mistakes made” by Liz Truss and referenced the loss of political trust in the aftermath of Johnson’s various scandals.

So what exactly did the new Prime Minister say in his first official speech - and what did it all mean? Here’s what you need to know.

Rishi Sunak today made his first speech as Prime Minister. Credit: Getty ImagesRishi Sunak today made his first speech as Prime Minister. Credit: Getty Images
Rishi Sunak today made his first speech as Prime Minister. Credit: Getty Images | Getty Images

On Liz Truss: ‘Mistakes were made’

Early on in his speech, Sunak addressed the former Prime Minister and paid tribute to her - as is customary. But he was evidently keen to make clear that he did not agree with Truss’ decisions whilst in government, even if he attempted to land the blow without too much force.

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Sunak said Truss was “not wrong to want to improve growth in this country” and argued that the mistakes made were not “born of ill-will or bad intention.” But he insisted that despite the objectives, they were still “mistakes” - suggesting her mission had been misguided.

Interestingly, the new Prime Minister then effectively set himself up as a saviour figure - claiming he had been elected to “fix” these mistakes. “And that work begins immediately,” he concluded.

Liz Truss makes a statement prior to her formal resignation outside Number 10 Downing Street. Credit: Getty ImagesLiz Truss makes a statement prior to her formal resignation outside Number 10 Downing Street. Credit: Getty Images
Liz Truss makes a statement prior to her formal resignation outside Number 10 Downing Street. Credit: Getty Images | Getty Images

On his style of government: ‘Integrity, professionalism, and accountability at every level’

It was not only Truss who faced criticism from Sunak, however. Johnson was also the subject of a fair deal of scrutiny during the speech.

The new Prime Minister vowed that his government “will have integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level” in an unveiled reference to the scandals that mired Johnson during his time in office. From Partygate to Chris Pincher, the Uxbridge and South Ruislip MP effectively destroyed the public’s faith in government in his last few months in Number 10 - and many critics used the very words that Sunak included in his speech to condemn the former Conservative Party leader.

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People said Johnson should have shown accountability by resigning as soon as the Partygate scandal emerged or shown professionalism by not attending parties while his country was on a lockdown he ordered. Meanwhile, others said he should have shown integrity by appointing ‘good’ people to his Cabinet - and by better dealing with the allegations against Pincher.

And Sunak tried to convey that this is something he is aware of. “I understand that I have work to do to restore trust after all that has happened,” he said. “Trust is earned and I will earn yours.” It will be a difficult task, that’s for certain.

On Boris Johnson and the 2019 election win: ‘Not the sole property of any one individual’

Staying on the topic of Boris Johnson, Sunak also tried to disregard the idea that it was Johnson who won the Tories’ landslide victory in 2019 - an argument frequently used against Liz Truss to suggest she did not have a mandate for her decisions, by both Labour and her fellow MPs. But Sunak rejected this notion, claiming the “mandate my party earned in 2019 is not the sole property of any one individual.”

After saying he would “always be grateful to Boris Johnson for his incredible achievements” and complimenting his former boss’s “warmth and generosity of spirit” - perhaps as a way to appease the many #BringBackBoris supporters still hanging around - Sunak argued that the manifesto “belongs to and unites all of us”.

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This was also a way to subtly say that he would not be calling a general election, without having to utter the words. Sunak’s argument here is that the Conservatives have a mandate to be in government, and as the elected leader, so does he - even if many others disagree.

Boris Johnson officially left office on 5 September. Credit: Getty ImagesBoris Johnson officially left office on 5 September. Credit: Getty Images
Boris Johnson officially left office on 5 September. Credit: Getty Images | Getty Images

On his own career: ‘You saw me during Covid’

Sunak also used his speech to recall some of his experience in government, perhaps as a response to conversation around him being the youngest Prime Minister in modern times and the fact that he has only been an MP (for Richmond in Yorkshire) since 2015. Speaking of his time as Chancellor, he said: “You saw me during Covid doing everything I could to protect people and businesses with schemes like Covid.”

This was an attempt to paint his political past as one of success, of course focusing on one of the schemes he was widely praised for rather than any of those which prompted critiques. Here, Sunak also drew a parallel between the coronavirus pandemic and the cost of living crisis, promising to bring the “same compassion” he brought to the former to the “challenges we face today”. The suggestion is: ‘I dealt with one crisis and can therefore deal with another.’ Again, only time will tell.

Rishi Sunak was appointed Prime Minister after Penny Mordaunt pulled out of the race to replace Liz Truss at the eleventh hour. Credit: Getty ImagesRishi Sunak was appointed Prime Minister after Penny Mordaunt pulled out of the race to replace Liz Truss at the eleventh hour. Credit: Getty Images
Rishi Sunak was appointed Prime Minister after Penny Mordaunt pulled out of the race to replace Liz Truss at the eleventh hour. Credit: Getty Images | Getty Images

On the challenge ahead: ‘I am not daunted’

Finally, Sunak attempted to convince people that he was up to the challenge he was taking on. While he accepted that he had to prove this “with action” rather than “with words”, it was perhaps an important statement to make - given that his premiership follows one of a Prime Minister forced to resign in relative disgrace after failing to deliver in office.

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The new Prime Minister said: “I know the high office I have accepted, and I hope to live up to its demands.” He also answered the question many have been asking (why would anyone want to be prime minister now?) by saying: “When the opportunity to serve comes along, you cannot question the moment, only your willingness.”

He of course also mentioned some key priorities of his: “a stronger NHS, better schools, safer streets, control of our borders, protecting our environment, supporting our Armed Forces, levelling up, and building an economy that embraces the opportunities of Brexit.” But as the Prime Minister himself said, these are just “words”. He needs to act on them - and soon.

Sunak’s speech ended with words similar to those before him, but spoken in a different tone - one perhaps more aware of past mistakes and more openly conscious of poor public opinion. He said: “I stand before you ready to lead our country into the future, to put your needs above politics, to reach out and build a government that represents the very best traditions of my party. We will create a future worthy of the sacrifices so many have made and fill tomorrow, and every day thereafter, with hope.”

It will be a busy few days ahead for the new Prime Minister as he battles to prove he can deliver on his promises - and can gain back any semblance of trust or faith from the public. If he can last in office longer than 44 days, he might have more luck than his predecessor - but we’ll all have to just wait and see.

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