Rishi Sunak has hired a close friend and journalist as a senior political aide as he prepares to focus on immigration, the NHS and education to arrest his party’s slump in support.
The prime minister has hired James Forsyth, the political editor of the Spectator, as his political secretary.
Sunak was reportedly best man at Forsyth’s wedding to Allegra Stratton, Boris Johnson’s press secretary who resigned over the Partygate scandal.
Forsyth will be tasked with ensuring that Downing Street, the policy teams and MPs are more united as Britain heads towards the next election, expected to be held in the spring of 2024.
Sunak’s main tasks since winning the leadership have been to steady the party and restore stability in government after Liz Truss’s turbulent time in office, which led to an economic crisis and the removal of Truss after little more than a month in power.
However, Sunak is still dealing with a rancorous parliamentary party that has become split on a series of issues. Sunak has already had to contend with possible rebellions over planning, onshore wind and immigration.
Forsyth, whose move was first reported by the Times, has repeatedly offered public support for Sunak. However, he has previously highlighted the dangers of failing to increase tax thresholds in line with inflation – known as fiscal drag. The chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, froze these thresholds at the autumn statement. He described this in 2010 as “a tax rise by another name”.
Sunak and Forsyth are now expected to focus on a series of issues that can unite the party and prove popular with the country as the election approaches. The plan has already seen Sunak focus on trying to reduce small boats crossing the Channel. He is also expected to focus on reducing the NHS backlog, improving the poorest-performing hospitals, and improving technical education as the UK struggles with labor shortages.
The latest polling suggests that while Sunak is seen as about as prime ministerial as Keir Starmer, the Tories trail Labour by a significant margin. The latest Opinium poll for the Observer from mid-December showed a 14-point Labour lead, with the Tories on just 29% of the vote. Sunak’s net approval rating stands at -7, while Starmer has a net rating of +3.