As Tories embrace Farage at conference, Rishi Sunak desperately tries to copy Boris Johnson – Euan McColm
The pathos is almost unbearable. Prime MinisterRishi Sunak is locked in a desperate battle to save the Conservative party from electoral oblivion. He willingly debases himself on a daily basis, pandering to the dwindling coterie of right-wing cranks who might yet turn out to vote Tory at the next general election.
He fabricates threats against which he will defend the nation, cooking up, for example, the nonsensical idea of a Labour plan to tax meat and assuring us he’s firmly opposed. And he evades questions, refusing to give straight answers on a range of issues from the economy to the HS2 project. And how do Conservative members repay Sunak’s willingness to humiliate himself for them? By treating him with contempt.
If the past few days of the Tory conference in Manchester have taught us anything, it’s that Sunak is the weakest Prime Minister in living memory (at least Liz Truss had the support of her members). Even Theresa May’s enemies made some pretence of taking her seriously. When it comes to Sunak, colleagues feel no such compulsion. Senior party figures aren’t even trying to hide their desire to succeed the Prime Minister.
Take Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch, who moved off her topic to talk to delegates about her desire to reform international conventions on refugees. A favourite with party members, Badenoch clearly sees this conference as the perfect platform to show off her leadership chops to members who’ve never been comfortable with Sunak in charge.
While ministers loyal to the PM delivered speeches to a half-full hall, members queued round the block in the hope of getting into an event at which the economy-trashing Truss explained she’d been right all along. Others waited patiently in line to meet Nigel Farage, the former UKIP leader whose every political move over the years has been designed to divide and damage the Conservatives.
One might almost feel sorry for Sunak if only he’d show a shred of character. Instead, the Prime Minister is behaving with the sort of cynicism that characterised the grim leadership of Boris Johnson.
He and his acolytes continue to peddle myths about what Labour will do should Sir Keir Starmer become the next Prime Minister. A current favourite with ministerial drones is the story of how they’ll stand against Labour’s plan to insist we go shopping no more than 15 minutes from home even though no such plan exists.
It’s hard, watching this conference unfold, to escape the conclusion that the Conservative party has been fully radicalised. The crank Brexiteers who lied their way to victory in 2016 have dragged the party further right to a place where the poor and disadvantaged are an inconvenience, where vulnerable refugees are to be seen as dangerous predators, and where lying to get to the top is just part of the game, old boy.
When Sunak became Prime Minister last year, there was a degree of goodwill towards him from the sane. After all, at least he wasn’t Truss or Johnson. Now we know that he combines Truss’s political incompetence with Johnson’s shameless dishonesty. The sooner Rishi Sunak and his party are out of power, the better for everyone, including the Conservative party which, right now, needs to be saved from itself.
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