London Diary: Sunak waits for a ‘spectacular’ miracle

With barely a week to go for the Tory leadership election result to be announced, only a “spectacular foul-up” stands between Liz Truss and prime ministership, according to pollsters

Rishi Sunak with wife Akshata Murthy
Rishi Sunak with wife Akshata Murthy

Hasan Suroor

With barely a week to go for the Tory leadership election result to be announced, only a “spectacular foul-up” stands between Liz Truss and prime ministership, according to pollsters as her rival Rishi Sunak trails behind her by some 32 per cent. It’s considered a statistical impossibility for him to recover from such a huge setback.

Leading pollster Sir John Curtice said he would be “extraordinarily surprised” if Sunak managed to pull it off. “Unless there is something that’s gone seriously astray this time it is difficult to believe that Sunak is going to make it. Truss would have to foul up in some spectacular fashion,” he said.

Sunak may be more polished and articulate, but Truss is seen to be the better politician with her clear and consistent narrative that appeals to a deeply conservative and predominantly white and male electorate at the party’s grassroots.

Sunak’s supporters have questioned polls and claimed that these do not reflect the feedback on the doorstep. They still hope something will “turn up”.

UK citizenship test too ‘colonial’

The process of acquiring British citizenship requires jumping through a series of hoops starting with proving you understand English, and are of “good character”. This means showing you haven’t recently broken the law or gone bankrupt. And, of course, there is then the mother of all hoops -- the Life in the UK Test.

Becoming a British citizen has been described as one of the most arduous and expensive citizenship processes in the world. And it could cost you between £5,000 and £10,000. Most people fail to get through the Life in the UK Test even after mugging up guide books. Even native white Brits say they might fail it because of its focus on obscure facets of British history.

And now an inquiry by the House of Lords justice and home affairs committee has recommen-ded that the test needs to be overhauled because it describes the British Empire as “a force for good in the world” and is alienating foreigners from participating in society. It said the test “comes across as a random selection of obscure facts and subjective assertions, trivialising the process” and were diminishing the UK’s reputation abroad…

Candidates told the committee that they felt offended by the British Empire being described in such flattering terms and the suggestion that the UK had fought alone against Nazi Germany. Meanwhile, the test goes on.

British writers Ian Rankin and Jeanette Winterson (right)
British writers Ian Rankin and Jeanette Winterson (right)
Photos: Getty Images

Writers take on Amazon

Rarely a day passes when Amazon is not in the news, mostly for negative reasons. Nobody, it seems, is happy with it, including millions of its customers seduced by bargain offers. They’re forever complaining: too much packaging, delayed deliveries, dodgy returns policy, poor customer service- -the works.

Amazon workers liken themselves to bonded labour: overworked, underpaid, abused and bullied by senior managers. High street brick-and-mortar businesses grumble about being squeezed out by its allegedly predatory practices. Mention Amazon, and someone somewhere has a grouse.

As I write this, some of Britain’s most famous writers such as Ian Rankin and Jeanette Winterson are up in arms against Amazon’s policy of allowing customers to claim full refund on ebooks within 14 days of purchase, even if they have read them in full.

Writers say that this deprives them of royalties from sales, and have started a petition demanding a change in policy. Rankin said he was “appalled”.“Writers have a tough enough time as it is trying to make a living. If someone can read your book without paying you anything for the privilege, you’re sunk.”

Winterson accused Amazon’s billionaire owner Jeff Bezos of betraying writers’ interests. “It’s difficult to know how writers are supposed to live; perhaps we are meant to double up as Amazon delivery drivers?” she said adding that Bezos started selling books because they made him money.

“The man has never given a toss about books, bookstores or writers,” she said amid sugges-tions that Amazon should be dragged to court if it doesn’t change its behaviour. We shall see.

The ‘sandwich’ test of marriage

And, lastly, a new BBC drama Marriage about a bored middle -aged couple trying to negotiate life together has prompted a lively debate on the joys and otherwise of marriage. So, what’s the test of a strong marriage?

The answer, according to one commentator---a divorcee--is: “harmonious marital monotony”, a quiet acceptance of each other’s whims and eccentricities. And a willingness to “share the tedium” of a long companionship.

“Sharing tedium has an intimacy that isn’t appreciated enough. As a good friend once told me: everyone needs someone who’s interested in what you had in your sandwich that day. If you have achieved this in life, I wouldn’t knock it too much,” wrote Lesley Thomas of The Times. Elementary, isn’t it?

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