FIRST things first. Liz Truss, Prime Minister, is no more, and is currently enjoying a “well-deserved break” after her tireless exertions over the six weeks in which she was in power. Defiant and complacent to the last, her loyal lieutenant, Therese Coffey, said she does not believe she owed people an apology for the economic chaos triggered by the Truss government.

But the world has moved on. The bond markets have settled down, and we have been spared the return of Boris Johnson, a politician whose sense of entitlement seems to know no bounds. And in place of Ms Truss we have Rishi Sunak, whose approach thus far has blended calm authority with a blunt admission that Britain faces tough times.

The new PM has to be credited with his consistent response to the woman who defeated him over the summer. Having derided Ms Truss’s “fairytale” economics during the leadership campaign, he was quick, on assuming office earlier this week, to acknowledge that she had made “mistakes” and that it was up to him to fix them. Even though her errors had not been “borne of ill-will or bad intentions – quite the opposite”, they were, nonetheless, mistakes.

He has been intent on restoring stability after the disruption occasioned by Ms Truss, purging the Cabinet of many of her senior ministers and appointing several old hands who had worked under Boris Johnson. Jeremy Hunt remains as chancellor, a further sign that the new PM recognises the scale of the task awaiting him as he seeks to balance the books. Michael Gove is a reassuringly experienced operator.

Mr Sunak rewarded those who had worked under him at the Treasury and on his leadership campaign by giving them prominent positions. Truss loyalists, such as James Cleverly (who quickly put his foot in his mouth in relation to gay football fans attending the Qatar World Cup) and Ms Coffey have been retained, though the latter has lost her Health brief and is at Environment instead.

Mr Sunak’s spokesmen talked of “continuity” and a “unified party”. Not a moment too soon. The Conservatives have belatedly realised that a truce is crucial after so much blood was spilled on the carpets, and with Labour resurgent in the polls. Can this unity hold? It has to, for the country’s sake. Dissident MPs such as Nadine Dorries – who asserts that, unlike Mr Johnson, Mr Sunak has no electoral mandate, and who has re-tweeted a reference to the Tories’ “Banana republic democracy” – are a slender minority, and it is to be hoped that they remain one.

All of that said, Mr Sunak did not get everything right in his first days in office. Because he had to keep the party’s right wing onside he reappointed Suella Braverman as Home Secretary, just days after she resigned from that post and thus helped bring down Ms Truss.

Troubling questions remain over the conduct of Ms Braverman. She stepped down over the leaking of sensitive government information that is believed to relate to cybersecurity. Using private email, she had sought to send it to another Tory MP, Sir John Hayes, but while trying to copy in his wife she accidentally sent it to an aide who was working for another MP.

Ms Braverman’s account of how she came to breach the ministerial code have been disputed by government sources and by a senior MP within the party. A newspaper claims that she also leaked top-secret plans to use a new “growth visa” in order to slash the national deficit. Her version of events here, too, has been challenged. There have also been reports that she was investigated by a Cabinet Office unit over a leak about the government’s plan to seek an injunction against the BBC.

Mr Sunak’s spokespeople have airily said that they accept Ms Braverman’s explanation about the initial leak to Sir John and they did not intend to “get into conversations and timelines around this”. But Keir Starmer has urged the PM to sack Ms Braverman as she could pose a security risk, saying that reappointing her was an act of weakness. MI5, no less, is to instruct her in terms of what information she can and cannot share, and on how to avoid security breaches. All of this might suggest that Ms Braverman is an accident waiting to happen.

Mr Sunak’s rapid restoration of the Home Secretary indicates that he believes in redemption. But a colder truth lies in the fact that he rang her no fewer than six times last week to plead for her backing, and that of the hard-right faction she is part of.

This is a reminder of the abiding strength of the right wing, which helped bring about the Brexit vote and all that that has entailed. In the months ahead, immigration targets and objectives may become a troubling issue between Mr Sunak and a senior Cabinet colleague who has, with some justification, been labelled a “human hand-grenade”.

Mr Sunak has also decided not to attend next month’s COP27 meeting in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, preferring instead to focus on domestic issues including the preparation of the autumn Budget. Coming on top of climate minister Graham Stuart losing his place in the Cabinet, echoing the fate of COP President Alok Sharma, Mr Sunak risks the perception that he is downgrading climate change as a priority.

Given authoritative warnings that the climate crisis has reached a profoundly bleak moment, with the world becoming “very, very close to irreversible changes” he has sent out the wrong message. What would it have taken for him to attend the summit for one day alongside 196 other world leaders and underscore global unity? He has been left looking small by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who herself will be in Egypt.

But we are where we are. Mr Sunak has generally made a competent start to his time in power. His speech outside Number 10 did not seek to mask the extent of the fiscal crisis facing the country – a “massive fiscal black hole”, as he later described it. He had a confident debut at PMQs. And, unlike Ms Truss, he also had the good sense, on his first day in office, to speak to Ms Sturgeon.

He has many urgent issues to deal with, especially as the Office for Budget Responsibility is expected to warn that Britain may tip into recession next year. Reports suggest that he will target up to £50 billion in spending cuts and tax rises. Will he extend the windfall tax on energy companies? What will he and his Chancellor do about benefits and pensions? Painful decisions lie ahead. We are in an acutely bleak spot, but Mr Sunak is the safest pair of hands we have at the moment.



GREATER urgency needs to be given to dealing with the landslip-prone A83 at the Rest and be Thankful, which closed again this week. It is an important arterial road, key to the economic well-being of the Highlands, and its plight has dragged on for years. A £25 million investment project must begin without further delay. Our rural areas deserve better.