Politics is often the search for what is sometimes called authenticity. It is the art of being, or at least appearing real and true to oneself.
Margaret Thatcher, as British Prime Minister, was authentically authoritarian. Gordon Brown was authentically serious. Boris Johnson was authentically entertaining but also authentically anarchic, disorganized and often incapable of telling the truth. And now it's time for Rishi Sunak to define himself in the minds of the British public before it's too late.
Hurry up. Opinion polls repeatedly suggest that a landslide victory for Labor is likely in the next general election. Mr Sunak says he will call the election in the second half of 2024, although some still believe the infighting and chaotic state of his Conservative party means he risks calling the election early in an attempt to ensure a sort of party unity. before it is too late.
It may already be too late and, in our quest for authenticity, we are learning some interesting things about Mr Sunak.
We learned that he fasts for 36 hours every week. We learned details about his family wealth. He personally paid an effective tax rate of 23 percent on income of $2.2 million ($2.7 million) last year, enriching the British exchequer by around half a million pounds . Whether Mr Sunak will like it among the public at this time of cost of living crisis is another matter. Conservative media strategists must have understood that most Britons don't like wealth or high incomes as long as taxes are paid to the government.
But the problem is that when it comes to authenticity, the party led by Mr Sunak is truly a disaster. Conservatives are torn between their competitors to succeed him and others who are desperate to escape what they clearly see as a sinking ship.
In recent weeks we have heard about parties within the party, including the National Conservatives, the People's Conservatives and the Five Families within Conservatism, as if this were a repeat of the vote. Godfather. We also saw the return to the political scene of the deeply unpopular former Conservative Prime Minister Liz Truss. She lectured people that we are a nation of secret conservatives. There is surely a logical flaw here. Is it possible to be national, popular and also secret unless one is also, to some extent, deluded about all these things?
Then there is skill. Or lack thereof. We had, for example, the spectacle of the Chief Secretary to the Treasury (a key government appointment) being taught the basics of economics by a BBC interviewer.
We then had a car crash interview in which Mr Sunak was tricked into appearing to accept a 1,000 bet from a TV interviewer. The bet was whether he, Mr. Sunak, would manage to send rejected asylum seekers to Rwanda. Betting on human misery with a sum of money that most people couldn't afford a thousand pounds is never a good idea, although it can be assumed that Mr Sunak did not want to appear so authentically out of touch with reality. And then there was another row when Mr Sunak made a careless joke about trans rights in Parliament while the mother of a murdered trans victim was in the public gallery of the House of Commons.
To add to Mr Sunak's woes, on the right of British politics, the perennial and extremely effective gadfly known as Nigel Farage is back and up to mischief.
Without Mr Farage, many doubt Brexit would have happened. He has a great ability to connect with certain people because he is authentically, that word again, a bit of a boy. He smokes, drinks heavily, entertains in person and has just survived the humiliations of a reality TV show in good spirits and with lots of money (reports say £1.5 million). Moreover, Mr Farage is being courted by those who would like to stand in parliamentary elections, either as an independent or for one of the right-wing fringe parties that have sprung up around his Brexit victory.
So you can understand Mr Sunak's dilemma. Faced with Labor's resurgence on its political left, and a sense that most people have had enough of the Tories after 14 years, many Tory MPs have in recent weeks chosen to leave politics altogether. The troubles on the right of Mr Farage and his ambitious Tory rivals appear to leave Mr Sunak locked up.
Should he move the party to the center, where most of the votes are, or shift to the right to neutralize the challenge from the far right?
In the 1950s, a Conservative Home Secretary, David Maxwell Fyfe, insisted that loyalty was the Conservative Party's secret weapon. In fact, disloyalty, ruthless infighting and the removal of failed leaders (David Cameron, Theresa May, Mr Johnson, Ms Truss) are instead much more genuine characteristics of the Conservative Party.
This is going to be a difficult year for Mr Sunak. And the rest of us.
Published: February 13, 2024, 4:00 a.m.
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