Katy Balls Katy Balls

‘I am working night and day’: Rishi Sunak on Jilly Cooper, immigration – and his plan for the next election

This Christmas, Rishi Sunak will be reading Tackle!, Jilly Cooper’s new bonkbuster. Cooper sent the Prime Minister a signed copy after she discovered – through The Spectator – that he is a fan. Tackle! is about an equestrian-turned-football manager who inspires a ragtag team to unexpected victory. ‘If you want to score, you’ve got to be a player,’ declares the cover. ‘It is literally on my bedside table,’ says Sunak when we meet in his office in 10 Downing Street.

‘This is the first year in a long time that I have actually read some fiction,’ he says. ‘I read these lovely books, which is good escapism for me.’ One is Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow (about gaming geeks) and the other is Lessons in Chemistry (about a female chemist fighting misogyny in the 1950s).

‘I can sit here and say: “Do you know what? Of all the things I said I would do, I’ve made progress”’

Perhaps it is not surprising that he is turning to escapism. The Tories end this year in a miserable position. The party has failed to dent Labour’s 20-point lead, Sunak’s personal ratings have slumped, and his backbenchers are in a rebellious mood.

A little over a year since he became Prime Minister, and with an opinion poll deficit that no party leader has ever recovered from, is Sunak enjoying the job? ‘Yes!’ he replies enthusiastically, without pausing for breath. ‘Of course, it’s hard. I knew it was going to be. I did it because I care about service, I care about this country and I thought I could make a difference. I believe that every single day. I come down here every day and I am really lucky; I get to work with an incredible group of people. I feel that I’m making progress so I can sit here and say: “Do you know what? Of all the things I said I would do, I’ve made progress.”

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