King Charles III welcomes Rishi Sunak during an audience at Buckingham Palace, London, where he invited the newly elected leader of the Conservative Party to become Prime Minister and form a new government, Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2022. Image Credit: Pool photo via AP

So, when push came to shove, the Conservative party finally saw common sense. And there’s a recognition that Rishi Sunak offers the best, last and only hope of restoring some semblance of normality back into what’s supposed to be the serious art of governing at Westminster.

For now at least the party seems united behind the new Prime Minister who enters 10 Downing Street as the youngest Prime Minister since the days of Lord Liverpool back in 1810.

Then Britain was engaged in wars against Europe conquered by Napoleon. Now, the Conservative party is engaged in a war with itself over Europe, the economy, each other — anything and everything that can and has caused deep divisions within its ranks.

Sunak’s rise with the Conservative party has been remarkable over the past seven years since first being elected. He only became Chancellor of the Exchequer three years ago, becoming the very public face of the office and the government as it provided some £300 billion in public funding to pay 80 per cent of pay for each worker furloughed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

His big thinking and bigger borrowing — yes, money was much cheaper then — saved millions of jobs. Any goodwill though was mopped away by the revelations of parties across Whitehall as Briton’s were ordered by his boss to keep apart and stay safe.

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Over the summer months, as Sunak tried to convince party members up and down little England of his suitability to lead the Conservatives, the overly large figure of Johnson loomed, with the supporters of the former PM conducting a whispering campaign that the former Chancellor has stabbed Boris in the back by resigning from Cabinet.

Indeed, with Truss stepping aside just seven weeks into the job, it was always inevitable that there would be a considerable element of Conservatives who sought to bring back Boris.

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Rishi Sunak, incoming UK prime minister, center, arrives at Conservative Campaign Headquarters in London, UK, on Monday. Image Credit: Bloomberg

It was he, after all, who secured their 80-seat majority at Westminster, he who delivered Brexit, and he who could return triumphantly to Downing Street to save the party in the remaining two years of its electoral mandate.

Only it was he too who had flouted those rules during the Covid-19 lockdowns, and he who a parliamentary inquiry could sanction for misleading the House of Commons when it meets in November. Had he returned as PM, that report would likely sink him.

When Truss resigned, Boris was in the Dominican Republic on holiday. Perhaps he should have listened to the jeers of passengers on a British Airways flight as he returned to Gatwick to organise his run for the Conservative party leadership on foot of Liz’s resignation.

By all accounts, Johnson could only muster some 50 votes — about half of those needed to secure a place under the high threshold set by the Conservative party leadership for Monday’s deadline. Even his most loyal frenemies have had enough.

Penny Mordaunt, the Leader of the House of Commons, was close to that 100-MP threshold too. Close, but nowhere close to the 160 or so pledges gained by Sunak.

Let’s be honest: he becomes Prime Minister at a time when many Britons could not spare the cost of the taxi ride — it’s about £10 — from Downing Street up to Buckingham Palace to meet King Charles. Yes, these are very tough times for too many Britons, facing high mortgage costs, rising food costs, soaring fuel bills and facing much uncertainty over their household finances.

He leads a deeply fractured Conservative party, riven by disunity over the economy, austerity, and how Brexit will play out.

He leads a nation that is imbalanced between those who live in London and surrounding areas, and the rest of the UK that has been left behind.

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Rishi Sunak, the new British Prime Minister Image Credit: AP

Problems Sunak inherits 

The National Health Service is deeply dysfunctional, broken by the heavy burden inflicted by the pandemic. Ambulances last week stopped answering some emergency calls in some areas as hospitals are unable to cope. The social care system is broken too, and the sector simply cannot get staff to care for the elderly. There are some 160,000 vacancies for care workers — positions that were previously filled by workers from the EU and elsewhere.

In Wales, the shortage of dentists covered under the NHS is so bad that one patient in five waiting for an appointment has resorted to do-it-yourself dentistry.

Sunak is at the helm of a nation where 90 per cent of schools are expected to be too broke to meet their bills, according to a report issued at the weekend.

Sunak leads a Conservative party that has, under Truss, abrogated its financial responsibilities and shrugged its collective shoulders when it comes to the simple maths of taxes and costs.

He enters Downing Street at a time when most of the UK — certainly its opposition leaders and the First Ministers in Cardiff and Edinburgh — are calling for a general election.

Over the next two years, if he manages to last that long — for now he has the good will but it’s not even his first week in office — he needs to chart a way forward. He has to be believable. And quick.