Rishi Sunak’s priorities are missing something

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak made a new year speech yesterday announcing his government’s priorities. “I want to make a simple commitment: this government will always reflect the people’s priorities,” he told the UK.

You can guess what one of those priorities will be. Like the last five Prime Ministers before him, he affirmed his faith in the god of economic growth. But what else? Sunak made five promises:

  • Halve inflation
  • Grow the economy
  • Reduce debt
  • Cut waiting lists
  • And stop the boats

Those are the big things on the to-do list for the government, and Sunak insists that “those are the people’s priorities.”

I wonder who he’s been asking.

Yougov have a long running survey that tracks the issues that people think are the most important. According to the January 2023 results, the top five are:

  • the economy
  • health
  • immigration and asylum
  • the environment
  • Britain leaving the EU

Other data sets are available and I expect the Conservatives have their own, but that’s a slightly different list of ‘people’s priorities’ to the ones that Sunak is claiming. There is some overlap of course – the state of the economy is pretty high on everyone’s list of things to fix. Healthcare is a growing crisis. Whether or not ‘stop the boats’ is any kind of an answer to the dysfunction of the immigration system is for another time, but people certainly care about the issue. There are two big absences in Sunak’s list though: Brexit and the environment.

Brexit is a problem that is 100% of the Tory’s own making, and the government is in a strong denial phase about the whole thing, so I’m not surprised it doesn’t feature. But Sunak is missing a trick on the environment. That is also one of the people’s priorities.

Since the summer of 2019, the environment has consistently been in the top five concerns. Rishi Sunak’s speech did not mention the words climate or environment. There was one passing mention of net zero, in a passage singing the praises of innovation. It doesn’t appear to be on his radar, and policies under his watch suggest that the government is not just weak on environmental policy, but moving strongly in the wrong direction. The scrapping of EU standards, the green-light to new coal power stations, bizarre notions of banning solar farms – these are not the actions of a government that takes the environment seriously.

Sunak is failing the climate and the environment here, but it’s also a political failing. If people want to see action on these issues, then you’re losing votes by ignoring them. There is broad support for many environmental measures, and so Sunak would gain from talking about them. If he won’t, he only cedes ground to his opponents come election time.


  1. I am heavily promoting ‘The Commitment’ to all of my friends and family. Signing up indicates that you will only vote for politicians who are going to prioritise the climate and environmental emergency in their actions.
    If enough people join up it will let our politicians know that they will not be re-elected unless they start acting for the planet and not the party.
    Check it out as a way to make a big difference with a simple act.
    The Commitment | Your vote for a Healthy Planet

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