London Diary: July 19

Rishi Sunak, famously Britain’s first non-white Chancellor of the Exchequer has reportedly overtaken his boss, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in the popularity stakes

 London Diary: July 19

Hasan Suroor

“Prime Minister” Sunak?

Rishi Sunak, famously Britain’s first non-white Chancellor of the Exchequer has reportedly overtaken his boss, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in the popularity stakes on the back of his assured performance in responding to the economic fallout of the pandemic. Recent polls show his personal approval ratings far higher than Johnson’s. In one, they’re plus 41, compared with just plus two for the big boss. In another, BoJo’s numbers are in negative.

This has sent Fleet Street’s speculation mill into an over drive. There’s already talk that he might start preparing his troops for a tilt at the top job as and when it becomes available. One commentator described him as the “biggest threat” to Johnson after his bumbling handling of the Corona crisis. Another described Sunak’s high personal ratings as a “vindication of his hawkish stance on the lockdown, advocating a quick return to normal life and strong government intervention to help people recover from the economic impact of the pandemic.

Apparently, in Tory circles, he is seen as “a ready-made replacement” for Johnson, according to one report.

“Tory MPs have detected an increasing independence and self-confidence on the part of Mr Sunak, fanning talk he is already positioning himself for a run at the party leadership if it falls vacant,” wrote the Mail on Sunday.

Sunak is invariably described as the ruling party’s “rising star” and when Johnson was hospitalised after being struck down by Coronavirus, young Sunak was considered a favourite to succeed him if he was forced to step down. He is said to be the most popular member of the Cabinet both in and inside the government. Most importantly, he has impressed the media with his suave performance at the daily Covid briefings where Johnson was often short and impatient with journalists.

“Sunak chose to compete more successfully with the prime minister by being unflappably patient and polite. Where Johnson has been tetchy, restless and curt in recent news conferences, muting journalists who wanted to ask supplementary questions, the chancellor could not have been more gracious,” noted The Independent’s John Rentoul.

Once the media is on your side, half the battle is already won. But beware: one mis-step which is to say one “tetchy” answer to a journalist’s question, and it could all be downhill from there. But dream on Mr Sunak: wanting to become Britain’s first non-white PM is a big deal.

...And your mug, Sir

Rishi Sunak was photographed with his “smart” tea mug which he received as a Christmas gift from his wife, Akshata. And it’s no ordinary mug, we’re told.

It costs a whopping £180, comes with an electronic charging coaster, and keeps the brew at the same temperature for three hours.

A mug to die for!

No, “master” please

In a new twist to the ongoing culture wars, Britain’s estate agents, ever sensitive to their clients’ presumed sensitivities, have decided to no more refer to “master bedroom” as a master bedroom because they believe it has a faint whiff of slavery and sexism. So, if you’re house-hunting expect instead to be shown into the “primary” or “principal” bedroom. It’s still the good old bedroom by another name.

Also out is any reference to “his” and “her” bathrooms to avoid offending same-sex couples. The new marketing buzz is to play it safe and go for neutral terms.

“Typical buyers are now aged from their early 20s to their mid-40s and from all over the world. This young demographic tends to be very broad-minded and find any form of sexism or racism deeply offensive,” one said.

“Sick” Britain

Britain has become a butt of jokes among its European neighbours for its shambolic response to the pandemic, leaving it with the highest Coronavirus death toll in the region. It has been dubbed the “new sick man”. Even the normally polite Germans have joined in poking fun at Brits calling them gullible Inselaffen (island apes) led by a loud-mouthed (Grossmaul) leader.

That leader, of course, is Boris Johnson, who’s detested on the Continent for his notorious anti-European-ism, and his obsession with taking Britain out of the European Union. The Greek daily paper Ethnos described him as “more dangerous than the coronavirus”. In Italy, Corriere della Sera likened London to the set of a dystopian film in which Britain had slipped into a “nightmare from which we cannot wake”.

Several European countries are reluctant to let British tourists in, fearing infection.

A lot of Poles have fled Britain complaining of poor health services. And, to think, that the same Poles once descended on Britain in droves to escape poverty back home. But that was then: before Johnson and before the pandemic.

And, finally, prominent Labour MP Jess Phillips has recalled that when she joined the Labour Party back in the 1990s and told its then leader Tony Blair, “I’m here to promote socialism”, he replied:”Oh, I think you’ve come to the wrong place.”

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