After the AI summit, Rishi Sunak has a potential legacy to cite — and a new dividing line with Labour

Rishi Sunak is a first-rate minister with a famously full to-do checklist. At first of the yr he set himself 5 “pledges” — on all of inflation, financial progress, the NHS, debt and small boats — to work on within the remaining few years of his premiership. He has since undertaken what might be thought-about a harder obligation, as he crusades towards a stale “30 yr” political consensus with internet zero goal tinkering and by reapportioning HS2 funding. 

However there are different extra unofficial, and moderately extra urgent, issues that will likely be animating the prime minister proper now. Polling reveals that in his first yr in No 10, Sunak has made little progress on his overarching mission of turning across the Conservative Celebration’s electoral fortunes; in fact, underpinning this central goal is his bid to unite the Conservative Celebration after the trauma and tailspin of the previous few years, whereas making a imaginative and prescient he can promote to the general public. He should accomplish that towards a backdrop of unhealthy information tales, together with in latest days these emanating from the Covid inquiry. 

There may be little signal Sunak has given up on the subsequent election — as he continues his post-conference relaunch by the King’s Speech and Autumn Assertion; however any prime minister 18 factors behind within the polls might be forgiven for wanting over the horizon of the subsequent election and into the long run. Lest he’s remembered as a barely extra secure appendage to the drama of the Johnson and Truss years, Sunak is likely to be starting to eye a central, dignified coverage mission that future generations can exalt. 

Forging a legacy, in fact, is the perennial occupation of any prime minister, posterity-minded as they’re: Theresa Could, after the chaos of the Brexit years, absolutely had one eye on the historical past books as she dedicated the UK to internet zero carbon emissions by 2050. Boris Johnson cites a triplet of triumphs on Brexit, the Covid vaccine and Ukraine assist. Liz Truss, effectively, Liz Truss has the Progress Fee. 


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And when Rishi Sunak introduced in June that the UK would host the “first main international summit on synthetic intelligence security”, it appeared the PM was setting the foundations for his personal credible and readily-citable legacy challenge. 

It has develop into cliché now to confer with our California-dwelling prime minister as a “tech bro”, however with the Whitehouse occupied by octogenarian Joe Biden, the 43-year-old Rishi Sunak actually thinks he might be a global trailblazer on AI. 

Finally, if Sunak can’t save the Conservative Celebration on the subsequent election, assuming a number one position in saving the world from novel applied sciences might sound becoming default place.

Thus, when Sunak first introduced plans for a worldwide AI summit in June, the PM and his officers rapidly went about convincing international locations to take the UK significantly on expertise. Sunak takes pleasure in how he has helped restore the UK’s diplomatic standing after the testy international insurance policies of the Johnson and Truss administrations. However greater than this: he has embraced the worldwide stage in a bid to leverage moments of obvious success over his doubters on the home entrance. The AI summit, No 10 might effectively assess, may assist Sunak burnish his popularity on the world stage after latest bruising by-election losses. 

On this means, the very pledge to organise such a high-profile occasion inside simply six months — with some world leaders already stated to want current governance initiatives just like the G7 Hiroshima Course of — serves as a sign of how eager Sunak is to be seen as a frontrunner within the AI subject. And regardless of the early confirmed no-shows of US president Joe Biden, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, Germany’s Olaf Scholz and France’s Emmanuel Macron, Sunak appears to assume his AI gamble is paying off. 

Yesterday, representatives from China and america shared a stage as they signed a joint assertion, alongside 26 different international locations, pledging to determine a brand new community to analysis frontier AI dangers. The so-called “Bletchley declaration” reads: “Substantial dangers might come up from potential intentional misuse or unintended problems with management regarding alignment with human intent. These points are partly as a result of these capabilities aren’t totally understood and are subsequently arduous to foretell.”

Securing China’s signature, after the nation’s invite induced appreciable disquiet amongst his social gathering’s international coverage “hawks”, will likely be seen as Sunak breaking new floor. In the meantime, science, innovation and expertise secretary Michelle Donelan has confirmed that the subsequent AI summit will likely be held in South Korea in six months’ time, with a 3rd held in France in late 2024. It appears Sunak has set the ball rolling on a sequence of COP-style tech summits; in the event that they proceed lengthy into the long run, it might be a worthy legacy. 

Rishi Sunak’s AI dividing line

There may be additionally an argument to say that Sunak shouldn’t be merely content material with an AI legacy, however intends to weaponise his worldwide tech trailblazer standing for his personal current political functions. 

The prime minister is, in fact, an unashamed techno-optimist; in a speech final week, he declared that his choice “to not rush to control” AI — towards the obvious instincts of the worldwide neighborhood — is “a degree of precept”. “We imagine in innovation, it’s a trademark of the British economic system so we’ll all the time have a presumption to encourage it, not stifle it”, he declared. Instinctively, Sunak questions the necessity for laws “for issues we don’t but perceive”.

It units up a dividing line with the Labour Celebration, which is fastidiously shadowing worldwide opinion on synthetic intelligence and stressing the potential risks. At London “Tech Week” in June, Keir Starmer warned that AI may worsen inequality and go away some communities poorer.

“Can [AI] assist construct a society the place everyone seems to be included, and inequalities are narrowed not widened?”, he mused, including: “This second requires Labour values, of working in partnership with enterprise, driving expertise to the general public good, and guaranteeing folks and locations aren’t left behind.”

And within the wake of the AI summit, Labour has noticed a chance to say it could “urgently” impose new rules on corporations concerned in frontier AI, essentially the most superior sort.

Shadow tech sec Peter Kyle invoked Starmer’s “inaction man” jibe to slight Sunak’s regulation hesitation. He stated: “It’s not ok for our ‘inaction man’ prime minister to say he is not going to rush to take motion, having instructed the general public that there are nationwide safety dangers which may finish our lifestyle”.

Labour, right here, has arguably put its finger on an inherent incoherence of Sunak’s AI messaging. It’s a paradox greatest summed up in his assertion to broadcasters this morning, when he steered we shouldn’t be “alarmist” about AI — however burdened, in the identical scripted spiel, that it may result in dangers on the dimensions of “pandemics and nuclear struggle”.

It begs the query: does Sunak’s hesitation to control AI cohere together with his new “long-term choices for a brighter future” slogan? It’s one thing Labour may look to take advantage of down the road.

There may be, in fact, a query about whether or not tech coverage is salient sufficient to characteristic with any degree of prominence in a coming election marketing campaign. However Sunak has discovered one other dividing line with Labour, and Starmer appears to be like set to embrace it. One wonders, although, whether or not the PM may have to rethink an strategy constructed round light-touch regulation and doomsaying rhetoric. 

Josh Self is Editor of, observe him on Twitter here. is the UK’s main digital-only political web site, offering complete protection of UK politics. Subscribe to our day by day e-newsletter right here.