Four weeks ago, Rishi Sunak was riding high, Boris Johnson was on the slide and the Chancellor’s daughter was proudly telling the women’s lobby drinks that she too wants to be a reporter. Now, after a fortnight of damning media coverage, her ambition might have been changed. Lambasted over his spring statement, mocked over his PR stunts and hounded by questions about his wife’s business affairs, Sunak is facing a tougher political landscape.
How can Rishi, the long-time favourite as next PM, come back from all this? Speak to ten different backbenchers and you’ll get ten different answers. With the Chancellor's hands tied by his own fiscal rules, Mr S suspects that to regain the initiative and put the opposition on the back foot, the onetime golden boy of British politics will need to do something truly radical.
Below are five unorthodox suggestions by Steerpike for how our flailing financier can put the shine back on his halo...
Revel in his wealth
‘Greed,’ drawled Gordon Gekko ‘is good.’ Liz Truss has been out on manoeuvres, presenting herself as the true heir to Maggie. It’s time for Rishi to show why he’s the real torchbearer of Thatcherism. Ditch the skinny tie for pinstripes and braces; seventies stagflation is out and eighties excess is in. Make a merit of his Goldman credentials: at least he’s not broke like Boris. Next time the Chancellor is grilled about his wife’s wealth, he should just look down the barrel of the camera and say coldly: ‘Hell yes, she’s non-domiciled. And we’d do it again.’ Why not go further and quote the gospel of Kim Kardashian? ‘I have the best advice for women and business. Get your ass up and work. It seems like nobody wants to work these days.’
Donate to all the public schools – not just Winchester
The old school tie still holds some clout on the backbenches. Chucking £100,000 to Winchester was a good start, but the old Wykehamist shouldn’t stop there. A true One Nation Tory would donate to all nine of the Clarendon schools. Give Harrow a helipad and Shrewsbury a swimming pool; build a Carthusian castle and a Pauline playground. Levelling up was all about helping the less fortunate – bung a few thousand to St Paul’s and Merchant Taylors' too. Why not go the full hog and sink a sum into Eton too? Imagine Boris’s face in 20 years’ time when he’s invited to his old stomping ground to open the Rishi Sunak science lab.
Double down on Will Smith
The Chancellor made headlines last week for comparing criticism of his wife to Will Smith’s Oscar slap. Two fallen icons, searching for a comeback: why not collaborate on a kooky cultural cross-over? Sunak could begin his next Budget by quoting the Fresh Prince: ‘Now this is a story all about how my life got turned upside down…’ Grant Shapps has had Michael Portillo feature in his train videos: why not use the Men in Black star to push free ports in Felixstowe? Smith’s lunge at Chris Rock has reportedly caused filming of Bad Boys 4 to be suspended. A replacement guest appearance by Sunak as a fish out of water Brit could prove to be a transatlantic box office hit. As for Smith, he could find rehabilitation in the corridors of SW1. After all, throwing a punch never did Prezza any harm.
Take in a Ukrainian
Rishi has been far too quiet on all this Russia business which has proved a winner with the Tory grassroots, sitting back to let Ben Wallace and the PM soak up all the limelight. To get out of his domestic woes, the Chancellor needs an opportunity abroad. Why not offer No. 11 to a dispossessed Ukrainian family? Cynical, yes, expedient, clearly. But if it worked for Boris, why can’t Ukraine do the same for Rishi?
Resign – and challenge Boris
With his ratings sliding, Rishi could make his final stand. Go out in one last blaze of glory, resign on the steps of Downing Street and unleash the whips’ black book. Dominic Cummings got months of bad headlines out of 18 months with Boris: just imagine all the dirt the long-suffering Chancellor has on his neighbour. To avoid going down as a banana-less David Miliband, a leadership challenge and domestic ding-dong would divert the lobby off questions about trivial matters like heating, eating and spiralling inflation.