AS THE dust settles on the long and bruising Tory leadership contest, and Liz Truss accepts Mission: Quite Possibly Impossible (a) to save the country and (b) to save the Conservative Party, speculation will inevitably turn to the future of her vanquished challenger, Rishi Sunak.
In an interview with Laura Kuenssberg on Sunday, Sunak did not rule out running again for the leadership. It took Ken Clarke three attempts before he finally got the message. Someone should have a quiet word in Rishi’s ear.
To paraphrase The Clash, the question now for the former Chancellor is quite simple. Should he stay or should he go? Seemingly accepting that he had lost the contest, he told Kuenssberg that his job ‘is just to support a Conservative government’ which is, of course, completely at odds with his assertion during the leadership campaign that he was the only candidate capable of winning the next general election for the Conservatives. No doubt his supporters will claim that this comment was not meant to be taken literally – it was just part of the cut and thrust of an election campaign. Maybe so, but just as the Conservatives are still taunted by Theresa May’s offensive suggestion that they were seen as the nasty party, you can be sure that if Sunak is in any way involved in the next General Election campaign, his words will be used relentlessly against Liz Truss by Labour, the LibDems and quite possibly Sir John Major.
Whilst I am not suggesting that he should immediately resign as an MP and force a by-election (the electorate will not thank the Conservatives for yet more self-indulgence at a time of national and international crisis) it really isn’t credible for Sunak to stand again at the next general election. In Kathy Gyngell’s excoriating review of Sunak’s belated Covid confessions, she describes him as ‘a man without a moral compass’. That is an understatement. It is not just that Sunak failed to speak up when he knew that the advice being given by so-called experts was dubious to say the least, but he committed a shedload of public money to implement their wish-list. Money that will take two or more generations of taxpayers to repay.
Nearly £500billion was wasted on lockdown. The shameful figures include £37billion blown on Test & Trace. Didn’t Sunak ask how such a gargantuan sum could possibly be justified, given the appalling track record of Labour and Conservative governments for large scale IT projects?
A further £10billion was wasted on PPE that wasn’t up to scratch and £840million on Eat Out to Help Out. It is easy to argue that the purchase of PPE was necessary because of the health emergency and that it was simply poor management and a lack of controls that led to such colossal waste, but £840million on fish suppers cannot possibly be justified by anyone claiming the free market mantle of Margaret Thatcher. It should have been obvious, even to the quarter-wits running the country, that having put most of the population under effective house arrest for months on end, as soon as restrictions were eased, we would all rush out to resume our normal lives as far as possible. We did not need to be incentivised to eat out.
The former Chancellor signed off all of the Covid expenditure. He is the person who said the government would do ‘whatever it takes’. Is our health service any better than it was three years ago as a result of Sunak’s largesse? Are we better prepared to fight another pandemic? How many more lives have been lost to cancer, heart disease and strokes as a result of lockdowns than were saved from Covid by the government’s measures? How much will our economic productivity fall in years to come as a consequence of school closures blighting the prospects of a generation of children?
Whilst his intentions might have been sincere, Sunak must take a large share of the responsibility for trashing the economy. He is responsible for breaking the election pledge on taxes which will exacerbate the situation. If he really wants to support a Conservative government, he should retire from political life graciously and gracefully.