The grubby double act of Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak needs to go - Euan McColm

Doesn’t the heart bleed for noble Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, currently the victim of what he describes as a “smear campaign”?

While Sunak tries to get on with his important job, opponents (and anonymous Conservative colleagues) have spent the past week furiously attacking him. A series of briefings - which can only have come from within government - have trashed the Chancellor’s reputation, surely ending any ambition he held of one day becoming Prime Minister.

In the dirty world of politics, there has rarely been a more effective hit job on a senior figure. Sunak’s career has been irreparably damaged by revelations, first about his wife, Akshata Murty’s financial dealings and then about his own decisions.

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We are living in an era of delusion at Westminster and Holyrood - Euan McColm
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson (R) and Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak (L) carry barrels as they visit Fourpure Brewery in Bermondsey, London. Picture: by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
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Sunak came out punching when it emerged that Murty held shares in - and enjoyed dividends from - a family company that continued to operate in Russia. His line - basically, “I’m not my wife’s keeper” - was weak but I’m not sure what other defence he could have mounted.

The flaw in his argument was that, whether he likes it or not, the Chancellor’s household benefited from his wife’s business decisions. The Sunak-Murtys enjoyed the profits of trading in a country which is, right now, murdering Ukrainian citizens.

Inevitably, an announcement followed that the Murty family company, Infosys, was to close its Moscow office.

And, perhaps, that would have been that if it hadn’t been for the emergence of even more troubling facts.

Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak's wife Akshata Murthy. Photo by VICKIE FLORES/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

We learned that multi-millionaire Murty paid just £30,000 a year in UK tax, enough to preserve her non-dom status and allow her to avoid paying UK taxes on her lavish foreign earnings.

The “I’m not my wife’s keeper" defence doesn’t fly here. The conflict of interest in explicit and should have meant Sunak’s departure from 11 Downing Street the moment we learned about it. No explanation in the world can make right a situation where the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s wife has taken steps to limit the amount of cash she pays in tax.

When, unsurprisingly, Murty announced that she would, henceforth, pay UK taxes, we were expected to move on. But all the Chancellor’s wife achieved was to make a mockery of the various explanations Sunak has made for her actions. It turns out all the reasons he gave for her non-dom status were bollocks and that - if it meant trying to save his career - she could actually pay UK tax, after all.

That political scandal - and the wife of a Chancellor avoiding tax is the definition of a political scandal - would have been enough to end Sunak’s Prime Ministerial ambitions but more was to come.

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For a number of years - including the first 12 months of his time as Chancellor - Sunak continued to hold an American Green Card meaning that, while he was an MP and then cabinet minister, he filed US tax returns.

Now, perhaps you are capable of the mental gymnastics required to square these things but I lack that intellectual agility. Instead, what I see is a man who is so detached from the reality of normal people that he didn’t think twice about his family’s financial arrangements until details were leaked.

In fact, a detachment from reality is his only defence. If Sunak proceeded with his arrangements knowing full well that, should they be made public, they would prove so damaging that his career would never recover (and won’t) then I suppose he could try the stupidity defence.

So, here we are, with a Prime Minister in Boris Johnson whose dishonesty and incompetence make him wholly unfit for the position he holds and a chancellor who - if we are being generous - simply doesn’t understand the sort of financial pressure those of us who don’t happen to be richer than the Queen face every day.

When David Cameron (yes, an idiot whose decision to run the EU referendum continues to cause huge financial pain) became leader of the Tory party in 2005, he promised a new kind of Conservatism. Recognising that the Tory brand was badly tarnished, he concentrated his efforts on reassuring voters that his party was not out of touch, that it was modern, progressive and fair.

This message, combined with a fall in Labour’s fortunes, saw Cameron enter Downing Street as the leader a new kind of Tory Party.

Twelve years on, the Tory Party is more riddled with sleaze, incompetence and venality than it ever was in the past.

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Johnson and Sunak are entitled men who hold great offices of state not because of a drive to make the lives of people better but because they believe themselves entitled to do so. No decision either man makes will negatively impact their families. They are protected by huge cushions of privilege and wealth.

Of course, being rich should be no barrier to someone seeking public office. We could do with more real wealth creators in the House of Commons, more MPs who understand the importance of supporting and sustaining decent jobs.

But Johnson and Sunak are rich not because of their endeavours but because of dumb luck. They have no concept of how little some families - “decent, hard-working families”, as politicians would have it - have to survive on.

At least if the Sunak/Murty household had ensured there was no avoidance of tax, we could have said that yes, they may be wealthy, but they’re in the same boat as the rest of us and paying their fair share.

Instead, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has taken us all for fools and treated us with contempt.

The sooner the grubby double act of Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak are removed from office, the better for all of us. Until then, let’s not stop “smearing” them with the truth.



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