Rishi Sunak behaves like a stranded alien forced to try to integrate with Earth people - Euan McColm
Moments after defeating his brother, David, in the 2010 Labour leadership contest, Ed Miliband delivered a victory speech that did little to convince all but the most tribally loyal he was the answer to his party’s problems.
But even before he opened his mouth to speak, Miliband did something that convinced me he’d never properly connect with voters. A TV camera caught him taking a sip of water. And he did it really weirdly. He picked up the glass, awkwardly, as if he’d never done it before, as if his movements were being dictated to him by some third party through a hidden earpiece. “Now bring your fingers together until they're squeezing the glass. And…lift.”
Later, Miliband was treated brutally by some quarters of the press for eating a bacon sandwich, weirdly. That whole thing was desperately unfair but life is frequently so.
The fact is we don’t like our politicians to be weird. We’ll tolerate a lot: smarm, broken promises, even outright lies but weird? No thanks.
Having realised voters see their leader as an oddball, political advisers go out of their way to prove otherwise. This never works. You can’t spin the oddball out of people as the Tories learned two decades ago when they stuck a baseball cap on the eccentric William Hague. Meanwhile, an attempt by Labour to make Gordon Brown seem less cold and distant by having him declare himself a fan of Arctic Monkeys was treated with absolute derision it deserved.
More recently, voters took a look at Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn and decided they didn’t want a crank for a Prime Minister.
Miliband’s bacon sandwich shame is all in the past. And there’s a new oddball in town.
Keen to show that chancellor Rishi “richer than The Queen” Sunak is, at heart, an ordinary bloke just like all the other ordinary blokes out there, his advisers orchestrated some photo opportunities where he could be observed doing ordinary bloke things as ordinarily as possible.
Because most political advisers are completely irredeemable idiots, Sunak’s people decided it would be a good idea to have him filling his car, like an ordinary bloke, worried about the cost of fuel.
And it's true, if you squint and hold the photo at arm’s length, he could pass for ordinary. Thing is, the ordinary bloke Kia he was fuelling didn’t belong to him. Sunak borrowed it from a Sainsbury’s worker for the duration of the PR stunt.
Now, you may say it’s hardly surprising Rishi “richer than The Queen” Sunak doesn’t own a Kia and I would agree. He probably has a winged chariot. So why the petty deception?
Anyway, pretending he was an ordinary bloke by putting petrol in a Kia was the least of Sunak’s problems for he was then to be filmed paying for it along with a can of Coca-Cola such as an ordinary bloke might drink on a hot day, guv’nor. This is where things went catastrophically wrong as the Chancellor demonstrated he had no idea how to use a debit card. He awkwardly waved it in the direction of the assistant before appearing to try to activate the card reader with the Coke.
As he flailed before this baffling piece of technology, it struck me that the Chancellor appeared like some sort of Pixar character; a stranded alien, perhaps, forced to try to integrate with Earth people until he can find a way back to his planet. Or just some stupid cartoon boy.
Sunak's rise from obscurity has been remarkable. Appointed Chancellor in February 2020 after the Prime Minister effectively forced out his predecessor Sajid Javid by demanding he sack his advisers, Sunak soon found himself at the forefront of the battle to mitigate the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic.
It was hardly surprising when his ratings rose when he established the furlough scheme and green-lit regular payments to the self-employed. It’s easy to be popular when you’re giving people things. People like receiving things, especially money.
But those days are long past and, following them into the distance, may be the dreams Sunak may have harboured of one day succeeding Johnson as Prime Minister.
During the early days of the Coronavirus pandemic, Sunak made a pretty decent fist of persuading us that he understood the pressures under which people were living.
Sunak shows little sign that he grasps the seriousness of the mounting cost of living crisis (how depressing that phrase, the idea that the mere act of living should have a cost).
We all face rocketing fuel and food costs the impact of which will be felt by all but the wealthiest.
One solution to this might be to redistribute wealth more fairly at this time but, since Sunak is a tax-cutter by instinct, I wouldn’t expect any moves in that direction. In fairness, Sunak doesn’t hide who he is. We can no more blame him for acting like a Conservative that we can criticise the scorpion for stinging the frog as it carried him across the river. It’s in his nature.
Sunak, as ambitious as he is odd, remains one of the more popular politicians in the UK but people can (usually) tell when a politician's taking the piss.
It is not necessary for every politician to be an ordinary Joe. The most interesting people to have served in the Commons have often been eccentric and single-minded.
Trouble only begins when politicians go out of their way to show us they’re just like us.
People want to know that this government truly understands the scale of the problems they face. Convincing voters of that will require Rishi Sunak to do more than participate in a pitiful photo opportunity in a petrol station.
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