Alas, poor Rishi! Remember that period, not so long ago, when the Chancellor would stand beside the PM and the pair together would look like a ‘before and after’ photo from one of those diet ads you often see on the backside of buses? Shagged-out, shabby, flabby Boris struggling to compete with the glowing picture of slim-line, male-model health that was Mr Sunak in his popular prime – the time when Rishi was dishing out the reddies to the furloughed workforce and soaring up the popularity polls as the heir apparent; seems like an aeon ago now, doesn’t it. Rarely can a contender have been so downgraded in so short a space of time as Rishi Sunak. From his badly-received budget to revelations of his wife’s tax avoidance to his fine for breaking lockdown restrictions, the Chancellor has had a terrible few weeks that appear to have left his alleged leadership ambitions in tatters. Obviously, the PM won’t be complaining; even though he himself is carrying the can for Partygate and has also been fined, the electorate expects nothing less from Boris after two and-a-half years. Rishi, on the other hand, offered hope (for some, at least) and is now fighting for Premier League survival in the relegation zone.
Considering some of the plebs who broke the restrictions suffered fines totalling £10,000, the fact Boris, Rishi and the rest of the Downing Street rabble have been punished with a £50 penalty is a bit like me and three receiving a fine of half-a-sixpence if Covid penalties were flexible enough to reflect salaries. Adding to Rishi’s woes (according to some reports, anyway), the Chancellor’s presence at the PM’s No.10 birthday bash in June 2020 was entirely accidental; the unfortunate Sunak was apparently en route to a Covid strategy summit in the Cabinet Room when he stumbled upon the cake being cut – or perhaps Boris deliberately (and craftily) invited him to sample a slice in anticipation of it all eventually coming out, thus ensuring his rival would be beside him on the deck of the sinking ship once the iceberg appeared.
Some say Sunak considered resigning as a result of being fined for breaking rules that a Cabinet he was a prominent member of had formulated without actually following – and there have been the inevitable calls to walk the plank from point-scoring Honourable Members on the Opposition benches. To quit over this might win back a semblance of respect from those outside the Party (the Conservative one, that is), but whether or not it could curtail Rishi’s hopes of one day moving next-door remains debatable. One ‘insider’ has claimed such a move on Sunak’s part would be received as ‘an act of regicide against Johnson’ that wouldn’t go down well with the Party faithful, yet the kind of honour-among-thieves mentality that enables the Tories to project a united front means little behind the scenes; after all, Boris himself was actively building his challenger fan-base when both David Cameron and Theresa May were in peril. Then again, that’s Boris; when it comes to a moral code, he’s perhaps the most shamelessly immoral Prime Minister we’ve had for the best part of 200 years.
The latest apology from the PM walks a familiar path when those caught-out are forced to own up to something they’d have otherwise kept quiet about – unconvincing and trite. It didn’t occur to him at the time that he was breaking the rules the rest of us had no choice but to abide by; well, he was only the head of the Government that introduced them, after all. He also denies lying to the Commons about the Downing Street ‘bring your own booze’ work events, which is a brazen denial in the face of overwhelming evidence; yet this is an age whereby 2+2=5 in so many areas, and we shouldn’t be surprised that a natural born liar should be as adept at contradicting fact as any online male activist who thinks merely self-identifying as the opposite sex means the rest of the world has to regard them as a woman. ‘There was a brief gathering in the Cabinet Room shortly after 2pm lasting or less than ten minutes,’ said Boris of his 56th birthday party. According to the PM, ‘people I work with passed on their good wishes. And I have to say in all frankness at that time it did not occur to me that this might have been a breach of the rules. I now humbly accept that it was.’ Oh, well – job done, then.
Whereas the dependable toadies have sprung to the PM’s defence – Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries, to name but two – it’s telling that some of the PM’s biggest internal critics have toed the Party line in the face of the latest crisis. Critics like Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross, who has previously called for Boris to go. Yes, he even played the Ukraine card. ‘I understand why they (the public) are angry and I share their fury,’ he said. ‘The behaviour was unacceptable. The Prime Minister needs to respond to these fines being issued. However, as I’ve made very clear, in the middle of a war in Europe, when Vladimir Putin is committing war crimes and the UK is Ukraine’s biggest ally, as President Zelensky said at the weekend, it wouldn’t be right to remove the Prime Minister at this time. It would destabilise the UK Government at a time when we need to be united in the face of Russian aggression and the murdering of innocent Ukrainians.’
Of course, it goes without saying that events in Ukraine are a tad more serious; but to evoke them in a statement on this particular subject seems especially reprehensible; it doesn’t excuse one single drop of plonk from No.10’s wine cellar being spilled at the very moment when police drones were encircling innocent dog-walkers or Her Majesty was burying her husband. Boris and his pissed-up posse were mooning the general public at a time when rules devised by them were making the lives of the general public a misery; and it’s only right this needs to be addressed, regardless of whatever is currently happening in Eastern Europe. Over 50 fixed penalty notices have been issued by the Met as a delayed reaction to shindigs in Whitehall at the height of Covid restrictions, and the investigation isn’t over yet. A serving Prime Minister – and his missus – being charged with breaking the law by the police and having to pay a fine is pretty unprecedented territory in recent history, yet the thick skin of the PM remains intact for the moment as the power of his suspected challenger suddenly seems rather diminished.
The Chancellor has been as apologetic as Boris in the light of the fines being issued. ‘I understand that for figures in public office, the rules must be applied stringently in order to maintain public confidence,’ he said. ‘I respect the decision that has been made and have paid the fine. I know people sacrificed a great deal during Covid and they will find this situation upsetting. I deeply regret the anger and frustration caused and I am sorry.’ Whether the electorate will show any sympathy for Sunak when they clearly have little left for Boris remains to be seen. The findings of a snap YouGov poll asking whether or not the PM should resign revealed 57% of those asked responded in the affirmative, as did the same numbers when asked if the Chancellor should follow suit. 75% also agreed the Prime Minister knowingly lied to Parliament about breaking the restrictions.
The usual suspects have lined-up to exploit the situation, including the ever-reliable Keir Starmer and Nicola Sturgeon. But so entrenched is the public’s cynicism towards the utterance of every politician – a state of affairs the politicians themselves are wholly responsible for – that the predictable calls for Boris to quit from the Labour and SNP leaders just feels like further desperate point-scoring. We don’t need them seeking to boost their popularity by saying out loud something we all already know. We’re not as stupid as they think we are.
© The Editor
2 thoughts on “THEY FEEL FINE”
Rather than the trivial detail of the ‘Partygate’ activities, the most astonishing aspect of the situation is the sheer naivety which allowed it all to happen.
Once they had decided to impose outrageous restrictions on the nation, it should have been screamingly obvious that their ‘enemies’ (of whom there are many, and not only outside the Tory Party) would be using all their sources, agents and guile to acquire and store up evidence of any transgressions for later use whenever politically expedient. And so it came to pass. Have they never heard of ‘optics’? Perception is reality, and any perceptions created by the exposure were bound to become the reality for the rest later.
It’s not only ‘Partygate’, the tax-status of Rishi Sunak’s well-funded wife had already been reported in select media (i.e. Private Eye) many months before it became politically advantageous to reveal it more widely. Sunak is indeed a smart bloke (after all, he married well), but he’s obviously not smart enough to realise how the revelation of his own family’s creative approach to tax-paying would sit somewhat awkwardly with his job as the UK’s chief tax collector.
When apparently very bright and successful individuals like Boris and Rishi can fail to recognise the potential political damage from the optics of otherwise trivial issues, this demonstrates a degree of naivety which I would prefer our governors not to have. Trouble is, the alternatives don’t exactly fill one with confidence, which is what may still save both Boris and Rishi in the end.
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I see the Eye is at it again this week with some number crunching – ‘11%: The increase in level of taxation for the whole population after Rishi Sunak’s tax rises (from 33% of GDP to 35.6%); 0%: The increase in tax on overseas income of non-doms under Sunak’s chancellorship.’ I think naive is as good a word as any.
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