Rishi Sunak has shown his true colours
Rishi Sunak, a small man who manages to make himself look ever smaller. A shameful man who trades on a fallacy that he is a man of integrity but then lets the mask slip, exposing a callous man, absent of empathy and seduced by the idea of becoming a big man by acting the fool.
This isn’t some fraternity initiation where exposing yourself for laddish laughs gains plaudits, this is government, it is serious, and we are in serious times. And vulnerable people shouldn’t ever be the fodder for a prime minister’s punchline.
Every murder of a child is a heartbreaking tragedy. None should be the focus of a trivial exercise in political point scoring. But you are also missing the point if you think that Sunak’s comment about Keir Starmer not being able to define what a woman is was transphobic just because the mother of Brianna Ghey was meant to be sitting in the Chamber. The fact that she wasn’t is immaterial. Both Starmer and Sunak understood her to be there and, in that context, now, at this moment, in the wake of the horror of Brianna’s murder by the evil teens who had drawn up a kill-list of adolescent prey, Esther Ghey’s dead child became the collateral damage of two party leaders playing to their respective galleries. And that stinks.
To not recognise how his comments could be interpreted wasn’t just crass of Sunak. Crucially, in terms of the characteristics needed to lead, it revealed a political idiocy in his inability to go off script, take a red pen through rehearsed lines when they clearly become inappropriate and when the sense of occasion demands, and instead rise up rather than punch down.
Yes, Sunak was playing to a particular audience in his party that have stoked the so-called culture wars and yes, he was right that Starmer has tied himself in knots over the definition of a woman in the context of the whole sorry sex and gender debate. And yes, Starmer’s nonsensical comment that 99.9 per cent of women do not have a penis was the target of Sunak’s jibe, not trans people.
The prime minister, who holds himself up as a man of decency, has shown his true colours with an inability to emote. In literally gambling on the future of desperate souls seeking asylum, he reached a new low
And yes, that scientifically stupid observation will surely come back to haunt the Labour leader because the fury on this is going nowhere. But where Sunak missed the point was in trying to make political capital at that particular moment over that particular issue when he didn’t need to add to his long list of the damaging Labour leader’s U-turns. But also, when Starmer had already pointed out that the mother of transgender teenager, Brianna Ghey, was in the building, in that split second, where you stand on trans rights or indeed women’s rights, didn’t matter because you need only possess a modicum of humanity to understand that this was not the right time to play political games over anything related to that.
And while I’ll admit an admiration for Kemi Badenoch is my guilty secret, as it is for many women on the left who have fought for their sex-based rights in the face of enormous hostility but have found themselves surprised by the straight-talking, fact-loaded, evidence-based sense coming from the Tory equalities minister, she also got this entirely wrong when she posted on social media that it was Starmer, not Sunak, who had weaponised the issue.
The only genuine thing about the whole shocking exchange was Starmer’s clear upset that Sunak didn’t have the sense to revisit his words, join up the dots, stop playing to the gallery, and remember that for any mother, particularly one you understand to be sitting right in front of you, the loss of a child holds no humour. None.
But this isn’t the first time in a matter of days that the prime minister, who holds himself up as a man of decency, has shown his true colours with an inability to emote. In literally gambling on the future of desperate souls seeking asylum, he reached a new low by shaking hands with the broadcaster Piers Morgan on a £1,000 bet that flights to Rwanda would happen ahead of an election. What an appalling lack of political judgement that displayed, never mind a basic humanity.
And without getting into the ins and outs of the whole horrific Rwandan scheme, I still have journalistic colleagues being treated for PTSD because they reported from that country on the genocide in 1994. And to use that place, and in this the 30th anniversary year of the 100 days of mass murder and rapes that occurred there, as a deterrent to desperate people seeking sanctuary here in a country which used to take pride in offering a helping hand to the displaced and wretched, is just gross. To then accept a price on their heads in a lighthearted wager between lads gets to the very heart of the denigration of our politics where trust, integrity and honour have all but disappeared.
The Tories have had enough opportunity in their 14 years in power to gamble with people’s lives. And with Sunak not even now in control of the words that come out of his mouth, the one speculation I would put money on is the sure-fire bet that Sunak will not be our next prime minister.
But it isn’t just the Tories. The first minister’s evergreen mantra of “I’ll take no lessons from [the Tories]”, in answer to so many questions being asked of him and his record in government, rings hollow with the overdue resignation of his health secretary, Michael Matheson. But it should act as a salutary reminder to Humza Yousaf, as he shapes his ministerial team from an ever-diminishing pool of talent, that those essential pillars of public service should also apply to him.
Matheson hung on for far too long and in doing so has also hung Yousaf and his personal judgement out to dry. The first minister pledged his unwavering support to his beleaguered cabinet secretary and told everyone else to back off. He made the wrong call. And when you quit government because of your own wrongdoing, as Matheson has now done, then maybe you should have the grace in your resignation letter to offer an apology rather than a list of what you perceive to be a job well done.
And when you additionally frame your exit as being “in the best interest” of yourself, then be warned that that also serves as a reminder, to an increasingly disillusioned electorate, that this is now a game for narcissists.