Often jacketless and tieless, sometimes carrying a can of Sprite, Rishi Sunak looked very much at ease on his trip to California.

As a Stanford Business School graduate, a former US Green Card holder and the current owner of a stunning apartment in Santa Monica, the Prime Minister was already a big fan of the Golden State.

And ahead of his meetings with US President Joe Biden and Australian PM Anthony Albanese, Sunak certainly appeared to be back in his happy place.

But his visit Stateside, and his trip to see Emmanuel Macron in Paris, has also highlighted where the PM is happiest politically too: the technocrat’s technocrat solving thorny problems with a pragmatism that was singularly lacking in his predecessors Boris Johnson and Liz Truss.

Often derided as “Silicon Valley Sunak”, even that jibe took on a more positive meaning after the UK Government worked round the clock with the Bank of England to swiftly and smoothly protect British investors and jobs from the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank over the weekend.

Pragmatism has undoubtedly allowed him to clean up the mess created by Johnson’s Brexit deal, his Windsor Framework on Northern Ireland’s trading status paving the way for the diplomatic coup of a Biden visit to the province for the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement next month.

Similarly, his £500 million deal with Macron to boost French and British policing of the Channel coast will have more practical impact on cutting the small boat crossings than any amount of contentious legislation to deport asylum seekers.

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The decision to engage in meaningful pay and conditions talks with striking public sector unions (even with a hint of ruthless divide-and-rule tactics as evidenced by chats with the NASUWT teachers’ union) is another sign of the premier trying to effect compromise.

Even amid the chaos of the BBC’s Gary Lineker suspension, Sunak struck a markedly diplomatic and constructive tone on Saturday evening, sending a signal that he wanted the dispute “resolved in a timely manner”.

That considered tone was a significant contrast with some of his backbenchers who wanted Lineker off the BBC for good. Sunak and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt have taken a similar approach to the Budget, refusing to bow to calls for a halt to corporation tax rises.

The Integrated Review of defence policy was yet another example of the PM gently ignoring demands from some more hardline colleagues, preferring to designate China as an “epoch-defining challenge” rather than a threat in the same league as Russia. An unscheduled commitment to defence spending of 2.5 per cent of GDP showed a similar quiet defiance.

From managerial fixes of the NHS backlog to removing China’s role in UK tech firms, it’s no surprise that Sunak told his Cabinet colleagues last week: “It’s actions, not words, that matter.”

Loved rather than loathed by civil servants, he couldn’t be more different from Johnson. Whereas his predecessor liked public confrontation but privately hated it (famously refusing to sack his ministers), Sunak is the reverse. He has a smiling mild manner for the cameras but can be a tough taskmaster in private negotiations. It’s not hard to see which approach gets more results.

Most important of all, the PM is determined to “futureproof” both the British economy and his own party. His creation of a new Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, as well as his willingness to defy the Truss and Johnson-backing members of his backbenches, is all about looking forward not back.

Sunak is often compared to John Major, yet in some ways he actually feels more like a Tory version of Neil Kinnock. The former Labour leader took on his party’s more ideological wing and did the heavy lifting in making it electable, but never won a general election himself. That may be the fate that awaits Sunak too.

While one of Kinnock’s landmark achievements was to renounce his own past in CND and change Labour’s stance on unilateral nuclear disarmament, Sunak’s Windsor Framework aims to water down the unilateral economic disarmament of Brexit – albeit only for Northern Ireland.

Of course the two men are very different (not least in their oratory), but Sunak and Kinnock both also share a reputation for haplessness in front of the TV cameras. For the Labour leader’s slip on Brighton beach read the PM’s confusion over a contactless card machine, from Kinnock’s “are you alright?” moment to Sunak’s business chat with a homeless man, the gift of the gaffe is not far away.

And just as the public couldn’t ever really trust Kinnock, they may find it difficult to change their mind about Sunak’s lack of a common touch. For all the progress on policy he has made in recent days, it may be the report about him paying thousands of pounds to upgrade his local electricity grid to heat his swimming pool that the voters notice most.

Yet although Sunak’s enormous wealth is the real downside of his image as a California dreamin’ politician, his bigger difficulty is that it often seems he’s trying to fix a Britain that his own party broke.

From the Cameron era of austerity driven low economic growth to the mortgage misery caused by Trussonomics, from pre-Covid backlogs in the NHS and the asylum system to Brexit itself, Sunak’s pragmatic fixes may not convince those voters who think the Tories caused the problems he seeks to rectify.

“I’m doing the right thing and in time it will make a difference to people’s lives,” Sunak said this weekend. “That’s what keeps you going…even if you don’t see the benefit of that every day.”

Sunak’s allies believe he’s doggedly turning around Britain, but he’s running out of time to turn round the polls. And while the Tories may one day in the future thank him for futureproofing their party, the public are showing no signs of their own gratitude just yet. History’s verdict will have to wait too.

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