The mood has turned towards Rishi Sunak in the wake of the cost of living crisis

This is Ian Dunt’s Week, a newsletter for subscribers only I. If you would like this directly to your inbox, every single week, You can sign up here.

Good afternoon and welcome to your Friday newsletter, which this week takes a break from the usual pain and suffering to sunbathe in the glorious anguish by Rishi Sunak.

There is a very specific joy in seeing someone who really deserves it, really get it. Sunak has been cross-country based on fuck for a long time now, enjoying sky-high votes, robust party backing and a generally easy-touch approach from the press. In fact, it is not entirely accurate to say that he is done. In many cases, he has worked to actively aggravate the situation. His Eat Out To Help Out plan, adorned with his feeble-minded smiling face, is the kind of thing we’d look back on as one of the most confusing moments of the pandemic – a government incentive to spread the virus as much as possible whenever it could brought under control.

But when the mood turns, it gets tough. Over the past 48 hours, Sunak has endured a brutal turn in fortune. Definitely funniest event this week was the video of him filling a Kia Rio he borrowed from a Sainsbury’s worker and then demonstrating that he had no idea how to use a contactless debit card. If you want a decent modern image of political interruption, it’s the richest man in parliament waving his bank card in front of a barcode scanner. It’s a moment of guacamole / mushy peas for the 2020s.

Fearful, angry and bitter

Suddenly, the sweet-guy Rishi is actually not behaving so nicely anymore. His Today the program interview Thursday morning was tantalizing, outraged and bitter. IN privatehe suggests to colleagues that the BBC and Labor are somehow interchangeable – always a good revealing sign of a conservative politician disintegrating into paranoia and idiocy.

If Sunak’s failures were all presentation-wise, it would all be a little harmlessly funny. But unfortunately they are also ethical. Wednesday’s statement, like all budget statements, was ultimately a moral proposition. It told us who he wanted to help and who he did not want to help.

The first sign of how degenerate his response would be came when he promised to scrap VAT on energy improvements in the home. It’s the kind of thing that’s not even aimed at those who feel comfortable. It is aimed at those who are feeling very well. They own their homes and have enough additional capital to spend on major installation projects.

Another Brexit fib

To top it off, Sunak revealed the idea by saying it was only possible because of Brexit. In fact, the EU changed the VAT rules so that they could be scrapped for environmental goods two years ago. One of these days, a minister is going to announce a Brexit dividend, which is actually true, but it has not happened yet, and it did not happen on Wednesday.

There was nothing for people on benefits. Nothing for those who could not work due to disability. And even those who work – contrary to Sunak’s stated “work works” beliefs – were hit worse than those who earn their money through rent, investment or retirement. He pressed on with the planned increase in e.g. National Insurance – albeit with a higher threshold – while promising to lower the income tax. This had the cumulative effect of raising the tax on income earned through work while lowering it for what can be earned in other ways.

If Sunak protected anyone, it would be better off. That poor would be left to fend for themselves for them selves. But in fact, even that was not true. The only person he really tried to help was himself. The tax cut was actually not part of a conversation with the public. It was a conversation with Tory members and MPs – an attempt to infiltrate them when Johnson falls and a leadership battle begins.

A political hammering

Sunak faced a moment of acute national distress in which the very poor entered a period of grave danger. And instead of helping, he chose to strengthen his resume.

But unbelievably, it did not work. Maybe it was too obvious. Or perhaps the cost-of-living crisis is so severe that even the most intellectually flawed politicians have been forced to acknowledge it.

The Chancellor is currently receiving a political hammering on an almost unprecedented scale in terms of its depth, breadth and speed. There have been two days in a row with brutal coverage in the press – including, most striking of all – in the normally slavishly supportive Telegraph and Express. His own MPs, to whom the opinion was clearly addressed, seem appalled at its complete absence of assistance.

And in that hammering lies a very deep philosophical problem for the Conservatives. What exactly are they about? Sunak sells himself as a pure-blood Thatcherit: a small state, people pulling themselves up in their boots, the infallibility of the market, a suspicion of government initiatives. And his statement was the kind of thing we would have expected in the 2010s, from David Cameron and George Osborne. It was Osborne actually cascading about it on Twitter – the kiss from the pale wrinkled Tory death.

What are the Tories now?

But that age has passed. Or at least we were told it was gone. Brexit was portrayed as a kind of victory over the out-of-touch London elite. It was all infantile filth, of course. But myths, once accepted by the government, must be dispelled. So Boris Johnson ran with it and promised a new interventionist muscular state to bring former Labor voters along on his cultural nativist project. Again – filth. But again, these would mean that you have to spend for these processes. It became the expectation no matter how seriously it was proposed.

So what are the Tories now? Low-tax pro-market Thatcherites, who will let people suffer from violent inflation? Or interventionist Keynesians, who will step in to protect them? No one knows. They certainly do not know. They are in a state of advanced ideological collapse that is falling apart under their own intellectual contradictions.

People can blame Sunak for anything they want. They should – it’s fun. But the truth is, his confused heartlessness is a symptom of something much bigger: the dissolution of a coherent conservative approach to the economy.

What to see: Raging Fire

Absolutely scared, this. Proper old-school, high body count, super crisp, hectic Hong Kong actions. Of course, there’s a lot in it that’s total shit: the acting, the plot, any scene without a fight. But all this is stuck in the category of so-bad-it-is-good. And then the action begins. It’s the kind of action choreography that Hollywood has proven unable to produce: beautifully choreographed, impeccably structured, happy, brutal, satisfying, and driven by a sense of relentless movement and storytelling. A movie designed to be seen after coming home from the pub.

What to listen to: Bang Goes The Knighthood, by the Divine Comedy

One of the most underrated albums from one of the most underrated bands. Almost every track on this 2010 release is perfect, but three in particular stand out: “The Complete Banker”, “At the Indie Disco” and “I Like”. The first is a witty and heartbreaking response to the financial crash, the second is a nostalgic but clear-eyed view of the way you spent your twenties, and the third is a perfect love song. Bliss.

What to read: The Blunders of Our Governments, by Anthony King and Ivor Crewe

An impeccably researched and outrageous book about how consistently governments over the last 30 years have managed to push things up. King and Crewe outline in detail the flaws behind events such as the Poll Tax and the London Underground partial privatization program, and provide structural and cultural explanations for why we seem so poorly governed. The book shows its age a little – there is a little early where they express relief that we would at least never choose a clown-like wannabe demagogue who breaks the law. But the stories are fascinating and the prognosis compelling.

This is Ian Dunt’s Week, a newsletter for subscribers only I. If you would like this directly to your inbox, every single week, You can sign up here.

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