London Diary: Mrs Sunak tried, but will it work?

The last time a prime minister brought his wife in as reinforcement was Labour’s Gordon Brown. But he lost the election that followed. Is it the Conservatives’ turn to meet a similar fate this time?

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (background) and wife Akshata Murty at the Conservative Party conference on 4 Oct in Manchester, England. (Photo: Getty Images)
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (background) and wife Akshata Murty at the Conservative Party conference on 4 Oct in Manchester, England. (Photo: Getty Images)

Hasan Suroor

The past week in British politics was all about Rishi Sunak as he made his first—and very likely last—speech as prime minister at the Conservative Party’s annual conference in Manchester, amid growing uncertainty about his political future ahead of next year’s general election.

It was dubbed his swan song—and, boy, did he pull out all stops to impress! He even drafted in his wife, Akshata Narayana Murty, getting her to make a little introductory speech portraying him as a man of conviction with a passion for public service, etc.

She pretended that she had just ‘gatecrashed’ the party, and that even ‘Rishi’ didn’t know what she was going to say. She was at her syrupy best in trying to humanise a man who comes across as too much of a technocratic machine.

It was an assured performance, and was rewarded with a standing ovation. But whether voters will reward her husband for her effort remains to be seen.

The last time a prime minister brought his wife in as reinforcement, it didn’t work. That was Labour’s Gordon Brown and he lost the election that followed—banishing Labour into the political wilderness, where it remains stuck.

This time, it looks like it is the Conservatives’ turn to meet a similar fate, with Labour consistently ahead in the opinion polls. In recent weeks, it appears to have attained an unassailable lead. Though Sunak’s own personal ratings have improved marginally after his conference speech, the party remains deep in the dumps.

As one political commentator who attended the conference wrote, ‘Even past midnight in the conference bar, it was impossible to find anyone, even those paid lavishly to think so, who would honestly say that (a win for the Conservatives) was likely to happen.’

Is it au revoir, then, Mr Sunak?


The myth of the four-day work week

Finally, the hype over the supposed virtues of a four-day week—less stress, more productivity, better work–life balance, etc—has started to unravel, with some employers who tried it having second thoughts already.

At least one British firm has binned the trial with immediate effect, after finding that far from improving efficiency and productivity, it had the opposite effect.

Krystal, a London-based internet services firm that launched a six-month experiment in June still had three months to go, but the feedback was so bad that the company said that it was left with no option but to axe the test plan immediately.

The aim behind the trial was to improve staff wellbeing and thus provide better service to clients, amid claims that a four-day work week could raise productivity by 40 per cent. Instead, according to the company’s boss, Simon Blackler, it resulted in the staff reporting more stress as they struggled to compress their work into four days.

It apparently affected efficiency too, with customers using Krystal’s helpline complaining of poor service. Blackler issued a public apology saying he had no regrets trying out the scheme, but that after ‘listening to feedback’, he was forced to return to the five-day week.

A corporate office in London
A corporate office in London
Richard Baker

Earlier this year, a study by the University of Cambridge and the campaign group 4 Day Week Global claimed that the idea had been a ‘resounding success’. But it emerged later that the local council, which was involved in the study, had edited the scheme to make it seem more positive. The original draft had reportedly admitted that the four-day week had a negative impact on staff wellbeing.

A cautionary tale for the new fashion of hawking half-baked ideas as serious solutions to complicated social problems, then?


How the Brits dumbed down tea

Few things better illustrate the dumbing down of traditional British culture than the way the Brits drink tea today, compared to how it was consumed in the good old days—when there were no tea bags and the art of teamaking lay in how well it was brewed.

Once regarded as a sacred ritual, making tea had already been reduced to the merest mechanical motions by the turn of the 20th century. But as if dumping proper tea leaves in favour of bags was not bad enough, most people are in too much of a hurry these days to get even the bags right.

To get the flavour right, a tea bag must be allowed to brew for at least two minutes —but a ‘vast majority of people are too time poor to let their teabag brew for more than a minute’, according to experts. Research has revealed that most take it out in under 30 seconds.

Prince William sips tea
Prince William sips tea

Now, a leading tea manufacturer, PG Tips, has come up with a new teabag that infuses in only 60 seconds. They reportedly spent £50 million on creating a new blend. It took two years to develop. Purists have hit back, calling it a ‘new low’ in tea consumption—and they don’t mean literally.

“I really abhor this kind of ‘innovation’. It is not progress but a massive retrograde step backwards in what tea should be,” said Jane Pettigrew of the UK Tea Academy.

Time for tea, anyone?

And, finally, leading British impersonator John Culshaw has said that he has started to “enjoy impersonating Rishi (Sunak)”.

“He is the closest you can get to AI while still remaining human,” he told the Times.

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