7 mins read

Rish! purposefully grips his lectern – but shows he has no grip of the country

Nothing shouts “Don’t panic! Don’t panic” more than a hastily arranged speech from the prime minister outside No 10 at 5.45pm on a Friday. Still, on the plus side, those who chose to carry on watching Pointless on BBC One won’t have missed a thing. It would have been hard to tell the two apart.

Rishi Sunak is the politician’s anti-politician. If he ever came close to a real politician, he might dissolve on contact. Just as well there are so few of them in his cabinet. You could almost call it a talent – the unerring ability to do the wrong thing. To strike the wrong tone. To misjudge the situation. Every time you think things couldn’t get any worse, Rish! appears to say: “Hold my Coke.”

This was meant to be Sunak at his most impassioned. Bringing the country together at what he thought was a time of crisis. Whether the election of George Galloway, thanks to the stupidity of Labour, really is a crisis is open to question. Clearly it’s a lot less than desirable. But a crisis?

Galloway is just one of politics’ natural gobshites. The left’s version of Nigel Farage. A man whose prime cause is himself and who exists in a narcissistic bubble of trouble-making. A little man who gets off on division. Shakespeare’s words “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” could have been written for him. To treat him any more seriously is to indulge him.

There was no real argument to Sunak’s speech. Nor was there any real rhetorical power. He is a prime minister unfortunately blessed with levitas. It’s almost impossible to take what he is saying seriously.

Least of all in his speech was any policy. Sunak just wanted to spend 10 minutes sharing his innermost fears with the nation without offering any solutions. Something he might have been better off doing with his therapist. If he hasn’t got one, he should find one urgently.

What shone through his words was the absence. There was a hollow, a vacuum at the core of his message. Because what he was really crying out for was for someone – something – to come and take control.

He wanted a government. He wanted a leader to make him feel safe. Because deep down, he knows he is not that man. As a prime minister, he is a fraud. At its most Freudian, this was Sunak’s primal scream for his daddy.

Rish! approached the lectern trying to look purposeful. Though mostly just relieved that the rain had momentarily held off and he wasn’t going to get soaked. He began by describing the problem. Extremism was on the rise in the country. On the far left and on the far right.

There was an increase in antisemitism. Jewish children afraid to walk to school. And an increase in hatred against Muslims, with women abused in the streets. There were threats to MPs in parliament. And now – the final straw – there was the election of Galloway in Rochdale. Democracy was now under threat.

Weirdly, it never seemed to have occurred to Sunak to ask himself why this all might be happening on his watch. Such a lack of intellectual curiosity in a man who prides himself on being clever is breathtaking. Perhaps the denial is too great. Perhaps it needs to be; otherwise he could not get through the day.

Let’s do the work for him. Let’s start with Brexit. Because that’s where political discourse in the country started to become more polarised and violent. Where was Rish! when the Daily Mail and the Telegraph called judges and remainer MPs “traitors” and “enemies of the people”? Cheering the newspapers on. That’s where.

Where was Rish! when Boris Johnson upended centuries of accepted parliamentary procedure with the illegal prorogation? Cheerfully nodding it through. So forgive us if we don’t take Sunak as a democratic role model.

Fast forward a few years. To Rish!’s term in office. Inviting Suella Braverman to be home secretary despite her being found to have broken the ministerial code. Minutes after Sunak promised to govern with “professionalism, integrity and accountability”.

Then the prolonged attacks on refugees and minorities. The othering of people who couldn’t defend themselves. Just because he imagined it would go down well with the right wing of the Tory party. He practically introduced a daily 15 minute hate. George Orwell would have been horrified.

Then to the present. A former prime minister, Liz Truss, who peddles conspiracy theories about the Bank of England being infiltrated by the deep state. Sunak just smiles indulgently.

As he does with Lee Anderson. Rish! may have suspended 30p Lee but the body language indicates that he is still welcome. This from Anderson, who unrepentantly insists that the democratically elected London mayor is colluding with Muslim extremists. That London is in effect under sharia law. They’re the fantasies of a not very bright far-right droid. But Rish! essentially lets it go. Unable to say the I word: Islamophobia.

On and on Sunak went about how the UK was close to breaking point. Does it feel that way to you? There was one laugh-out-loud moment when he appealed to those marching for peace not to let their protests be hijacked by extremists.

Just a week ago, the prime minister was at a Welsh farmers’ protest that was hijacked by some climate crisis denial extremists. And Rish! was happy to have his photo taken with them. You couldn’t make this stuff up.

The longer Sunak went on, the more desperate and the less effectual he sounded. And he was starting with a very low bar. We were basically a nice country, he said. Don’t let it be ruined by extremist idiots. Well, quite. He could start with those close to him.

Democracy was increasingly fragile and needed protecting. Yup. Now remind me who elected the current prime minister. Or the one before that. Oh, that’s right. No one.

This can’t go on. If Sunak really wants to know why the country feels as if it’s falling apart, it’s because we haven’t got a functioning government. All that he did get right was “enough is enough”. It is. Time for an election.