After Boris Johnson, we need a well-dressed PM but it can't be Rishi Sunak, even in a £3,500 suit – Aidan Smith

On a little promotional film for Rishi Sunak’s tailor, you get a tour of the Savile Row shop.

Suits you, Rishi. Sunak looks dapper but can he relate to the man in the street who can't afford £3,500 worth of Savile Row threads? (Picture: Victoria Jones/PA)
Suits you, Rishi. Sunak looks dapper but can he relate to the man in the street who can't afford £3,500 worth of Savile Row threads? (Picture: Victoria Jones/PA)

There’s a handsome horse figurine, a couple of art deco table lamps, a large model of an airliner and a globe, which is spun by an immaculately cuffed hand before stopping at Russia.

The irony is heavy. Far heavier than a Henry Herbert suit would sit on your shoulders, I bet. The most I’ve ever spent on a tin flute is a fraction of the £3,500 reportedly needed to dress Sunak for a Tory leadership debate.

But shouldn’t we as a country – and indeed the rivals for No 10 – be discussing Russia, Putin and the war in Ukraine, rather than what each is wearing for this contest?

Yes, the conflict has come up a few times. And there’s been lots about tax and education is currently a hot topic. But Sunak’s suit versus Liz Truss’s earrings does make me wonder: are we the most frivolous nation on Earth right now?

I realise that by mentioning the suit and the earrings – to say nothing of Sunak’s £450 loafers – I’m merely adding to the frivolousness. This thought is inescapable, though: who’s in charge of Sunak’s PR and have they been sacked yet?

The slickness of that video to launch his leadership bid – and the quickness with which it appeared. The second video showing him at a screen, pretending to be hard at work on some complicated aspect of macroeconomic theory, then pretending to be surprised when he learns he’s made it through to the next round of voting. Who thought these were good ideas?

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Was it the same clots who back in March thought it would be a good idea to issue publicity shots of Sunak pretending to fill up his modest little hatchback with petrol to benefit from the just-announced 5p cut in fuel duty?

How tempting was it to have “hard-working families” at neighbouring Sainsbury’s pumps gazing admiringly at him? (“Mummy, is that the nice man who’s spring statement means we can afford sausages for tea?” “Yes, son, that’s your Chancellor of the Exchequer”). Wisely, the PR department drew back from this. I mean, convincing the public that Sunak actually drives a Kia Rio was always going to be an impossible sell.

Probably Lexus, Range Rover and BMW – they make his real jalopies – haven’t suffered from association but I’m wondering about Henry Herbert.

Is all publicity really good publicity? In a cost-of-living crisis, is a £3,500 suit a good look for a politician aiming to become the Prime Minister we urgently need to manage said crisis and ultimately steer us out of it?

Claire’s Accessories, meanwhile, have enjoyed the kind of free advertising that manufacturers of £4.50 earrings – like the ones worn by Truss – can only ever dream about.

It’s difficult for Sunak. He can’t hide the fact he’s extremely wealthy and obviously, regarding the suit, decided: “Why should I?” If he’d donned a much cheaper one, he’d have been accused of having pots of money but no taste or of trying to repeat the Kia Rio ruse.

And goodness me, 10 Downing Street needs a smartly dressed premier after Boris Johnson. The man simply couldn’t wear a suit, or repeatedly gave the impression he slept in his (viz, when photographed at the end of the G7’s June Summit in Germany it seemed as if he was being propped up by Olaf Scholz and Justin Trudeau after an epic shindig).

He was all mouth and ill-fitting trousers. His jackets suggested there had been a continual mix-up at the dry cleaners and that he’d failed to notice the name on the ticket – “Geoff Capes”. Put a Henry Herbert on Boris and he’d most probably turn it into a habitual offender’s “court suit”.

But Sunak trotting out a tale of humble beginnings has jarred. I can’t believe he thought this was a good strategy and assume he’s been advised to repeat it, as if to soften the fact Rishi is rich and counter any claim to being out of touch with the common man and his monthly spend. Supporter Matt Hancock’s impatiently asserts that his man “grew up in a pharmacy”. Is that supposed to make us think of young master Sunak stepping over methadone users on the way to breakfast?

But in our image-obsessed politics, it is the incident on the building site which beggars belief in a campaign that Sunak is losing. Maybe he instinctively reached for his Pradas on the day of that visit on Teesside but someone should have stopped him. Truss, if she becomes PM, is going to outlaw wolf-whistling by hardhats and indeed everyone. If Sunak’s most expendable footwear comes in at £450 then he deserves jeers.

Maybe he was always going to lose. Maybe after Big Dog if the country wasn’t now going to the dogs, he would have waltzed into Number 10. Perhaps he’s the right man but it’s the wrong time.

To his credit he braved the beast – Andrew Neil. TV’s most ferocious interviewer rubbished him on Rwanda – “at a cost of £6,000 per migrant it would be cheaper to send them to board at your old public school in Winchester” – but it seems that Truss will be able to keep finding excuses for not wanting to have her policies ripped to shreds.

Ultimately, though, I don’t think Sunak will lose because of his privileged education or his Pradas or his suit. What had done for him was his aggressive approach to the second televised debate, his mansplaining and those 20 interruptions in the first 12 minutes. He calmed down a lot after that but now it’s much too late.

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