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Sleazy Does It

Sleazy Does It

View of the Houses of Parliament

As his tenure turned a hundred days last week, Rishi Sunak could rejoice at one thing. He is still Prime Minister – one up on his immediate predecessor. But, as our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, that’s about it for the foreseeable future.

Some thirty years ago the Tory PM John Major launched a nostalgic campaign, designed to appeal to his older voter base, entitled: ‘Back to basics.’

Unfortunately for him, the message was eclipsed by basic instincts, as more and more of his chaps were looking like dirty rotten scoundrels.

His own extramarital affair had yet to hit the headlines, but folk were fascinated by claims that one of his ministers liked sucking his girlfriend’s toes.

On top of the naughty bits bit there was scandal after scandal over various top bods’ financial affairs.

Little wonder that just a few years down the line the (at the time) young and charismatic Labour leader who talked human simply rubbed the Tories out.

Now scroll forward to the here and now.

A young, personable and fresh-faced Prime Minister has come into office promising a government of: ‘Integrity, professionalism and accountability.’

Like back to basics, those words are coming back to haunt him astonishingly quickly.

So far he’s had to publicly defend no fewer than four of his ministers. One over tax affairs, which brought his own back into view, and two over bullying claims.

The one that’s still ongoing, over the dozens of complaints about his allegedly loud-mouthed close ally and deputy Dominic Raab, also begs questions of him.

Number Ten insists Sunak was never formally notified about the grief the man was said to be chucking around like confetti.

But that strikes many as odd. Likewise Sunak’s insistence that he had no idea his now ex party chairman had been fined by the taxman.

Yes, Nadhim Zahawi got his comeuppance in the end, but not before the Prime Minister had taken loads of flak.

With the heat turning up on Raab, Sunak’s once again in a bind. And this brings into sharp relief the missing weapon in his armoury.

Few would dispute that he personally is hard-working, honest and decent. And a very good organiser, who has at least managed to steady the Tory ship.

As he said himself in a recent party political broadcast, he ‘was brought in to fix’ the challenges facing the country.

But that makes him sound like a boss brought in to rescue a company from collapse. The underlying implication being the appointment’s only temporary.

It’s subtle, but noticeable. A pointer to the fact that he’s ace with spreadsheets, but rubbish at reading political runes.

This goes some way to explaining why Sunak lacks the knack of knowing what to say, and, more importantly, how to say it.

And this in turn goes some way to explaining his progressively worsening standing with the public.

The pollster YouGov’s findings are damning. A couple of months ago just under half of voters thought he was doing badly – now it’s well over half.

Link that to the bulk of surveys suggesting the Tories will win the fewest seats since the party was founded in 1834, and Sunak does indeed look temporary.

Not like it’s all his fault, mind. The combined ills of the pandemic and Putin’s war have shafted everyone, though we Brits seem to be at the bottom of the pile.

Our living standards have been hit hard enough to bring about little short of a general strike, with no end in sight.

And underlying ills, notably the crisis facing the health service, have been blamed not just on a few months but on a decade of neglect.

About the only glimmer of hope left to the Tories is that the Labour leader is no Tony Blair. Both North London lawyers, but that’s where the similarities end.

It’s easy to forget, as Blair’s been on the naughty step ever since Iraq, that he was once capable of capturing the public’s imagination. Cool Britannia and all that.

Of course he was also in a position to make crowd-pleasing pledges, thanks to John Major’s unfairly neglected success in sorting the economy.

Keir Starmer, by contrast, will have the devil of a job promising anything anything like as nice.

On top of that, while he’s gradually getting the hang of not looking like he’s just swallowed a wasp, he’s no better at the vision thing than Sunak.

Also, they’re as bad as one another at spotting the obvious opportunity to ease our plight by softening trade terms with Europe.

They’re both terrified of Brexit hardliners, in spite of mounting evidence of the damage done by the deal we struck, and of buyers’ remorse about it.

So what bedraggled rabbits can Sunak possibly pull out of the hat between now and late next year, when the general election is likely to be held?

The obvious one, according to Tory right-wingers, is tax cuts.

Forget wishy-washy promises about growth at some point in the future, they say, there’s a budget next month, so stop being such a wuss.

Or, in Shakespeare’s oft-quoted words: ‘Screw your courage to the sticking-place, and we’ll not fail.’

If they put it to him in those terms, Sunak might be tempted to point out that that line was Lady Macbeth’s, and her plan didn’t end well.

They haven’t so he hasn’t. But what he has said is that people can understand this course is not affordable, because they’re ‘not idiots’.

Arguably that was a clumsy way of saying it, as it risked upsetting both a fair few of his already grumpy MPs and a slice of his voters.

Blindingly obvious, though, given that his immediate predecessor Liz ‘Loopy’ Truss tried just that, and nearly tanked the economy in the process.

Still, it’s surprising how many in the party would dearly love to give her a second shot at it. Amnesia rools, ok?

But the serious contender in the life after death department is Boris Johnson, in spite of the partygate inquiry that could cost him his seat in parliament.

Sound a bit bonkers? Like bringing back the dead? But, hang on a moment, stranger things are happening.

You might think the dodo’s climbed right up the curtain, having not been seen for four centuries. Then again, you might be wrong.

The pioneering gene editing company Colossal Biosciences is already working on bringing back the woolly mammoth and Tasmanian Tiger.

But the extinct bird is something else. Might even give the Tory dinosaurs a new slogan.

Bring back Bojo? Bring back dodo? Spot the difference!

Watch Peter’s report HERE

Peter Spencer has 40 years experience as a Political Correspondent in Westminster, working with London Broadcasting and Sky News. For more of his fascinating musings on the turbulent political landscape, follow him on Facebook & Twitter.

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