ANDREW PIERCE: Attacked by all sides, Rishi Sunak is paying price of popularity
From the tour de force of his first ‘coronavirus Budget’ last March to his ruthless determination to save jobs and revitalise what’s left of the economy post-pandemic, Chancellor Rishi Sunak is accustomed to winning plaudits.
The events of the past 48 hours and the brutal attacks unleashed on social media will have bemused the former Goldman Sachs banker – but they certainly won’t have fazed him.
If anything, they add yet more lustre to the legend that Sunak and his team are nurturing.
Few voters had heard of Sunak when Boris Johnson promoted him to the second most powerful job in Government last February.
The events of the past 48 hours and the brutal attacks unleashed on social media will have bemused former Goldman Sachs banker Rishi Sunak – but they certainly won’t have fazed him, writes ANDREW PIERCE
Indeed, he was dismissed as the ‘Chino Chancellor’ – a No 10 puppet or stooge, a Chancellor In Name Only.
Yet within a month, he had established himself as his own man – a future Tory leader, according to observers – with a stellar Budget performance that had Government benches roaring with approval and left Labour with nothing to say.
As the pandemic took hold, he proved to be a steady hand on the Treasury tiller while having to do what no Tory Chancellor could ever imagine – repeatedly shake a forest full of money trees to limit the damage caused by Covid by extending the furlough scheme and coming up with packages to support those subjected to localised lockdowns.
‘Eat Out to Help Out’ was Dishi Rishi’s brilliant wheeze that delighted voters on both sides of the political divide and staved off disaster in some parts of the hospitality sector.
His City career makes Sunak one of the wealthiest members of the Cabinet in his own right – with a £7 million London home, a £1.5 million estate in Yorkshire and a holiday home in California
At the same time, he was reassuring his party that balancing the books would be his priority.
It was little wonder that in successive polls he emerged as the most trusted minister in a Cabinet beset by accusations of incompetence.
On the ConservativeHome website this month, his approval rating was 82 per cent – 12 per cent ahead of his nearest rival. What is intriguing is exactly where these online attacks are coming from.
His City career makes Sunak one of the wealthiest members of the Cabinet in his own right – with a £7 million London home, a £1.5 million estate in Yorkshire and a holiday home in California.
He is also married to billionaire’s daughter Akshata Murthy.
That makes him an easy target for Labour apparatchiks such as Adam McNicholas with his One Rule For Them campaign – although portraying Sunak as a champagne-swigging party boy is stretching the actuality somewhat, given the Chancellor is a teetotaller and workaholic who’s barely taken a day off since the pandemic hit.
He is also married to billionaire’s daughter Akshata Murthy. He is therefore is an easy target for Labour apparatchiks such as Adam McNicholas with his One Rule For Them campaign. Pictured: Sunak with his wife in a still taken from McNicholas’s attack video
There are others, though, who seek to damage Sunak for different reasons – for his poise and ever-growing political clout and those claims that he is tipped for the top job when the beleaguered Boris Johnson chooses to throw in the towel or is seen off by his own party, depending on which rumour is doing the Westminster rounds this week.
Just a few weeks ago, Health Secretary Matt Hancock was accused by Treasury insiders of briefing journalists that the ‘traffic light’ lockdown system was a fait accompli when in reality Sunak was fighting it tooth and nail.
Now an acrimonious dispute has broken out with the Department for Education over who is to blame for the school meals row.
Sunak was furious to read in the Sunday newspapers that the Treasury was responsible for blocking the £20million-a-week extension of free school meals.
One headline reported it as ‘Rishi vs Rashi’ – a reference to footballer Marcus Rashford who is demanding the scheme continue.
A member of Education Secretary Gavin Williamson’s team is suspected of briefing the story.
No 10, of course, thoroughly disapproves of the attacks on its next-door neighbour – but one can only wonder just how whole-hearted the condemnation is.