Rishi Sunak has spent most of his two years as Chancellor as one of the most popular people in Westminster. His swift action on furlough endeared him to the public and his party alike. At the height of Partygate, he was one of the top candidates for Johnson’s replacement and he seemed to hold the Prime Minister’s fate in his hands. But in just over a week, his star seems to have fallen faster than anyone could have anticipated.
It all started with the Spring Statement which has gone down like a lead balloon. Of course, we already knew that the Chancellor was raising taxes – all of the money used in the pandemic needed to be paid back at some point. But Sunak’s choice to raise taxes to the highest levels since the 1940s while the UK faces a looming cost of living crisis hit hard, particularly his failure to offer any consolations to society’s most vulnerable groups. Those tokenistic tax cuts that with the massive increases almost seemed to add insult to injury. The reaction was immediate and damning from multiple sides including The Office for Budget Responsibility, think tanks, and the overnight papers.
And the slick image Sunak has spent two years cultivating began to slip and a different one emerged; that of a Chancellor completely out-of-touch. He became tetchy and exasperated on the broadcasts the next day, acting as if was the public’s fault the Spring Statement didn’t go down well. Sunak admitted that he had a whole range of bread in house and couldn’t accurately state what a loaf now cost. A story of him borrowing a car from a Sainsbury’s worker for a photo opportunity emerged, followed by revelations that he owned four cars. A video of him seemingly being unable to use a contactless card just added to the picture of a Chancellor whose life is so different than the general publics that he can’t even purchase a Coke at the service station. And then there’s Sunak’s wife and the uncomfortable question about why her father’s £10bn company, Infosys, has refused to stop doing business in Russia. Just yesterday Sunak likened himself to Will Smith as he defended his wife against criticism, saying “At least I didn’t get up and slap anybody.”
His own party has sensed the change in tides and began to turn on him, with many Tories saying he should have been bolder on tax cuts and asking if the Spring Statement is all they are planning to do help people. The Prime Minister himself was out all week saying that the Government must do more to helping working people and Sunak’s cabinet colleagues have aimed a number of hostile briefings at the Chancellors. The public thoughts’ on Sunak are turning as well with his approval ratings at all-time low and the image of ‘dishy Rishi’ fading into the background as people worry about heating their homes and feeding their children.
There is a general consensus that Sunak has not done enough to ease the cost-of-living crisis as the UK faces the biggest fall in living standards since the 1950s. Yet, no-one seems to have a solution and with Sunak is currently in the firing line, it is doubtful any member of the Conservative Party will be willing to take his place, as they don’t want to be the ones to announce higher taxes or spending. So perhaps Sunak can ride this out as many have done before him. But after the last week, there’s no doubt that the shine has worn off the Chancellor.