Maths, strikes and resignations

By Chris Rogers

The week in review: a week in numbers

Rishi Sunak started the week telling us it shouldn’t be “socially acceptable” to be bad at maths, but ended it with a reminder that when it comes to party management and parliamentary arithmetic it takes more than numeracy to make the sums add up.

First some good news for the prime minister – he’s made inroads into Labour’s poll lead, cutting it to anywhere between 14 and 16 points, dependent on which polls you read.

But it’s been a decidedly difficult week for No.10. The NHS revealed hundreds of thousands of operations were cancelled because of striking staff, with further industrial action on the horizon. Labour repeated its attacks on Mr Sunak over his wife’s shareholding in a company benefiting from the government’s headline Budget announcement on childcare. A number of Tory MPs have lined up to challenge the PM’s plan to tackle illegal migration.

And Mr Sunak ends the week with perhaps his biggest headache – the resignation of the deputy prime minister, who on his way out insisted the two adverse findings against him over bullying and behaviour in the workplace were “deeply flawed.”

After delivering the Windsor Framework and claiming progress in resolving NHS pay disputes, the impact of industrial action poses a severe threat to the government’s claim of quiet competency and getting on with the job. Health service leaders are issuing near apocalyptic warnings about the damage of further strikes, with the full spectrum of emergency services potentially at risk.

The issue is as difficult a one for Labour. Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting has said he can’t support strikes given the impact on the public and warned that money on its own won’t solve the problem. He’s faced his own criticism on policy this week, with the editor of GP bible Pulse claiming insufficient numbers of staff make Labour’s pledge to return to the days of the family doctor undeliverable. But ultimately, if you can’t get medical care, the buck stops with the party in government.

The quiet credibility of government is also at risk given the response among Tory MPs to legislation to stop illegal migration. There’s been what could be charitably described as a ‘robust argument’ among backbenchers as to whether the plans need strengthening – and the hardliners appear to have won round one, given No.10’s changes to the proposals. However, former justice secretary Sir Robert Buckland insists the amended legislation won’t make it through the Lords and this one risks reigniting some of the febrile atmosphere within the Conservative ranks.

It’s an atmosphere likely to be soured further if, as party chairman Greg Hands predicted, the Conservatives lose north of 1,000 seats in the upcoming local elections.

The end of the week brings the biggest political story, albeit not necessarily the one with most direct impact on a public likely concerned if the local A&E unit is open (the seriousness of bullying in the workplace notwithstanding).

Rishi Sunak is now in the market for a new deputy. Dominic Raab jumped before the prime minister concluded whether a push was necessary but did so warning his departure set a “dangerous precedent” and risked the quality of feedback to officials. His departure spares Mr Sunak a difficult decision but will further damage his insistence on the professionalism government, given the now former justice secretary is the third cabinet member to go over personal conduct in a matter of months.

And, finally, just to show the numbers haven’t been in Mr Sunak’s favour this week, the ONS has revealed a surprise drop in retail sales in March. With retail sales seen as an early indicator of economic activity, this will be a further worry for No.10 and the Chancellor.

The prime minister is no doubt right to exhort us to improve our numeracy, but as this week shows, many things in politics, like life, can’t be mastered on a spreadsheet.