Rishi Sunak’s main strength, according to Rishi Sunak, is that he’s not afraid to tell everyone how s*** everything is, so it must be quite disappointing for him that he’s barely getting a chance to even do that.
You’ve heard it all before: “I stuck to my principles!” “I wasn’t afraid to say what people didn’t want to hear!” “Liz Truss said everything was going to be great!” “I didn’t say that. I said everything’s absolutely buggered and there’s more or less bugger all I or anyone else can about it. Well I was right and she was wrong and that’s what got me where I am today.”
Trouble is, where he is today is exactly where the last two prime ministers were, which is to say, not saying or doing anything very much at all, beyond trying but failing to explain away the unexplainable and defend the very obviously indefensible.
This, one has to think, is not what Rishi Sunak wanted to be prime minister for. Having said that, it could hardly be less clear what it is he does want to be prime minister for. The only meaningful principle he’s ever come out with in public life is that he believes in “low tax”, but he first said these words during a budget in which he raised the level of general taxation to the highest it has been in 80 years. (The following day, The Daily Telegraph put his picture on the front page, beneath the headline, “The Death of Conservatism”.)
It’s a real shame that Rishi Sunak simply isn’t being allowed to get on with what he’s so very good at. There’s so much bad news for him to share, a neverending torrent of it, that you’d think it would be in everyone’s interests to just let him get on with it. There could hardly be a better time in at least the last 80 years for a man who isn’t afraid to tell people what they don’t want to hear.
They don’t want to hear that people are still dying while waiting for ambulances. They don’t want to hear that growth forecasts for 2023 have been revised down again. They don’t want to hear that government borrowing is back to record levels, of which an obscene, stomach-turning, just utterly disgusting amount is being borrowed, by the party of sound money, just to pay back the interest on the last lot it borrowed.
But all this bad news, Sunak is hardly getting a chance to deliver, because people keep asking him about the state of the Tory party, rather than the country. They still want to know why it is that there’s a man in his cabinet who still hasn’t managed to provide an explanation for why Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs made him pay a penalty understood to be around a million pounds, over an unpaid tax bill that was three and a half times that.
Yes, people really do still want to know but he just won’t answer. At Prime Minister’s Questions, after his fourth refusal to answer, Keir Starmer asked him if “maybe the job was a bit too big for him”.
To this, Sunak reckons he had a sharp answer. “I stick to my principles,” he said. “When I disagreed fundamentally with the previous prime minister, I resigned from the government.” But Starmer, on the other hand, quietly sat next to Jeremy Corbyn for four years, and said or did nothing about it.
But what principles are they? It’s almost impossible to remember as far back as July of last year, but if memory serves, Rishi Sunak resigned because he’d simply had enough. He’d had enough of upholding a government that didn’t really seem to be doing anything at all apart from spending all day defending the indefensible, explaining the unexplainable, and making itself look ever more ridiculous.
He’d also maybe had enough of serving the first-ever prime minister found to have broken the law while in office. Well, there’s two of them now and he’s the other one.
So it surely can only be a matter of time before Rishi Sunak sticks to his principles and resigns from his own government. We must pray it doesn’t happen, because there’s so much more bad news to come, and only Rishi Sunak will be prepared to tell us all about it.