IIt is the tradition that the relativity of politicians is measured by knowing the price of a pint of milk. Which I suspect will be around £9.80 in a few weeks. Margaret Thatcher was very proud to be able to answer this question, a skill somewhat undermined by the fact that she touched upon it later.
The problem with having recent governments filled with millionaires (at one point it was two-thirds of the cabinet) is that, even if they could answer that question with certainty, it wouldn’t take away from the fact that they have no idea what budgeting and financial constraints are like for most of the public.
The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, for example, married with an absurd amount of money; think of her as some sort of Austen heroine in a Supreme hoodie. His wife, Akshata Murthy, the daughter of a billionaire, is said to be richer than the queen. On Wednesday morning, Sunak was asked awkward questions about whether his family benefited from relations with Russian companies, hours after he said relations with Russian companies were bad. Which reminded me of when Katie Hopkins said naming children after places was disgusting, before remembering her daughter’s name was India.
Previously, the Chancellor had been ruthlessly mocked for claiming he owned a Kia Rio and filled it up at a Sainsbury’s petrol station to show he had cut 5p per liter of fuel to help motorists’ in trouble”, who, forgive me, do not currently seem the most needy. Perhaps even more mortifying, poor Rishi (I use the word poor metaphorically) managed to mess up his payment by – swear – tapping his contactless card on a barcode scanner. It has to be the biggest failure of a millionaire politician struggling to cope with the rudimentary chores of daily life since Jeremy Hunt pulled an emergency stop cord on a train thinking he flushed the toilet.
All of which brings us to Sunak’s spring statement. The newspapers are unanimous in their brutal criticism of a mini-budget that crushes the poorest in society (no!? This government?! Get out of here!). With energy bills also expected to rise by 54% next month, I doubt I’ll be the only one donning all the clothes I own, à la Joey from Friends piling Chandler’s entire wardrobe.
The interesting thing is whether this will be the moment when Brand Rishi falters. Granted, his shrewd social media presence won’t be able to cut him in the face of 69% of respondents to a YouGov poll saying he hadn’t done enough. Over the past 18 months, Sunak has risen to prominence, aided by interns who have learned to use the overlay tool in Photoshop and created graphics that look like announcements that their boss is playing a residency at the Ministry of Sound. . The entire Treasury has developed a boot tune, which will never be a super cringe move for any government department (Steve Hilton is just there like a cautionary tale, guys).
I’m not sure when the moniker “Dishy Rishi” was coined (on the back of the second * – the youngest chancellor in a century being moderately handsome) many of us could have foreseen it, without a mask , inside, holding a real dish, pretending to work in a Wagamama as part of his “eat to help” program – a name surely concocted during a focus group with Benny Hill fans. (*The youngest chancellor in a century was George Osborne, which is hard to fathom because, even at 38, he often had the undead vibe.)
What’s particularly odd is that Sunak affixed an “eat out to help” sticker in the window of No 11, as if his own house was participating in the scheme; although I guess it’s pretty much 24/7 cocktail hour next door, so maybe he was wrong.
Ultimately, the program increased attendance by 5%, but also increased Covid infections by up to 17%, and millions were lost to fraud. So who can really say if it was a good idea?
Sunak was praised for the billions spent on Covid mitigations, which would have been nice if he hadn’t tricked freelancers and gig economy workers, and messed up the furlough deadline to the point where thousands of people lost their jobs, just for him to literally reverse course five hours before he hit.
During all this time, the photo sessions follow one another. Here’s Sunak standing in front of a bank of monitors, which I imagine makes him look determined and responsible, but actually looks like a still from Squid Game.
Then there’s Suave Sunak, as evidenced here. Which, unfortunately for him, gives off a strong Harry Maguire chatting up those girls with World Cup energy. Witness it:
When it comes to football, Sunak likes to think of himself as a laid-back guy, so it only made sense that he and Boris Johnson staged the photoshoot below around table football (complete with strategically placed hand sanitizer).
Johnson, of course, is a sporty man, well known for jogging in dress shoes; take the kids out to the rugby pitch; and thinking it was okay to boo the England football team. The only thing I really know about Sunak’s sporting life is that he supports Southampton FC, and once took part in some sort of boxing event – “delivering a hard-hitting message” on the exercise – and was pictured smiling as he was about to be punched. Chest. His love of sportswear, however, extends beyond tracksuit bottoms and hoodies, which once led BBC great Naga Munchetty to deem his favorite pool sliders “awful”.
I’m all for jogging bottoms and sliders – mainly because I haven’t been outside in two and a half years – and I’m actually in favor of politicians dressing more casually in general , but, as with Emmanuel Macron last week, the artificial ploy attempted nervousness is palpable. And the plastic charm bracelet worn by Sunak during last October’s budget presentation was a step too far. Part Alex Garland writing The Beach, part extracurricular activity for children, it was the most embarrassing piece of jewelry since Theresa May wore a bracelet from the famous communist Frida Kahlo.
None of that cool, down-to-earth Rishi shtick really washes out when you’re a man in a £795 jacket pushing 1.3million people into poverty, and families refusing food bank potatoes because they can’t afford the energy to cook for them. With 2.5million food parcels a year being handed out in the UK, Sunak’s whole spring statement could be summed up as: let them eat caviar.