Rishi Sunak and the art of politics

Rishi Sunak and the art of politics
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The sound of chinking glasses and merry laughter greeted Steerpike yesterday as he made his way through the Westminster village. Rishi Sunak might have placed an edict on Treasury staff holding their traditional office drinking session while watching him deliver his spring statement but clearly some just decamped to SW1's watering holes instead. What better way to greet the biggest fall in living standards in any single financial year. One baby-faced apparatchik was overhead remarking: 'That went alright, didn't it?' Less than 24 hours on, Mr S isn't so sure that's the judgement of the commentariat....

Still, at least the Treasury gang appear to have kept their drinking relatively under control, unlike last year when Sunak's mobbed appearance at the Two Chairmen prompted a noise complaint from enraged neighbours. Not so the House of Commons where it seems parliamentary staff are getting smashed and then falling asleep on the estate. Sir Charles Walker has this morning written to MPs to ask them to 'be vigilant' in ensuring passholders conduct themselves to the 'highest standard at all times.' The Chairman of the Commons Administration Committee claims that during a recent meeting with the director of parliamentary security:' 'I learned that passholders are returning to the premises, having missed the last train home after a night out, to sleep in their office.' Whoops!

At least a blast of good fiscal common sense can be found at the Austrian embassy. Academics, wonks and assorted hangers-on gathered last night at the palatial splendour of Vienna's finest diplomatic outpost to mark the life of Friedrich von Hayek, that doyen of British Thatcherites. Organised by the Adam Smith Institute, the Austrian economist's granddaughter Catherine was among those in attendance. She told Mr S that, through her work as a violinist, she had met a distinguished Cabinet Office mandarin who had confirmed that of the two busts commissioned of Hayek, one now resides in a tucked-away corner of the Treasury: presumably well out of sight from Chancellor Sunak. The other – according to family legend – resides in the Kremlin. How appropriate for an economy on the verge of going bust.

Mind you, Sunak isn't the only government minister with an icon of a free-market hero. Steerpike's spies report that rising star Nadhim Zahawi has not one but two busts of Enlightenment thinker Adam Smith, the bigger of which has featured prominently in the Education Secretary's video broadcasts. Other ministers seem far more conventional in their decorative choices, for a Freedom of Information request by Mr S reveals that seven MPs have requested more impressive pictures of the Queen from the Government Art Collection to adorn their offices, alongside the standard issue one in most government buildings.  

Priti Patel, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, Chris Philp and Ranil Jayawardena all plumped for David Bailey photographs with Michael Ellis preferring a shot by Dorothy Wilding and Nigel Adams going for one from the State Opening of Parliament. Talk about loyal subjects. Oliver Dowden meanwhile got Damian Hirst's artwork which used to adorn Matt Hancock's office on a thousand endless Zoom calls. Boris Johnson has grabbed himself a Lucian Freud with Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, unsurprisingly, going for Foreign Policy by Tacita Dean. Julia Lopez at DCMS has a picture of the London Blitz (fun!) with Trade Secretary Trevelyan preferring appropriate pictures of the Great Exhibition.

But it was Nadine Dorries, newly promoted in September's reshuffle, whose choices most intrigued Mr S. The Culture Secretary has chosen eight items from the Government Art Collection including Henry Pether's 'Lambeth Palace by Moonlight' and Leo Fitzmaurice's 'Constellation'. Lindsey Mendick's 'Till Death Do us Part' might serve as a metaphor for Nadine's unswerving loyalty to Boris while Michael Landy's 'Compulsory Obsolence' is a neat summary of much of her time on the backbenches. She also has a photograph of Walter and Zoniel Hugo's 'Tank outside at night', shot in Liverpool – a nice nod to her Merseyside roots.

The art of politics is one thing, but the politics of art is quite another.

Written bySteerpike

Steerpike is The Spectator's gossip columnist, serving up the latest tittle tattle from Westminster and beyond. Email tips to or message @MrSteerpike

Topics in this articlePoliticsrishi sunak