Row as Ben Elton uses BBC to label Sunak ‘narcissistic sociopath’

Row over use of comedians on political show, as Tories complain following Joe Lycett outburst nine months ago

Adam Forrest
Political Correspondent
,Kate Devlin
Sunday 25 June 2023 17:29 BST
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Sunak as much of a ‘narcissistic sociopath’ as Boris, says Ben Elton

Comedian Ben Elton launched an astonishing attack on Rishi Sunak on the BBC on Sunday – accusing the PM of being a “narcissistic sociopath” and urging viewers to kick the Conservatives out.

The left-wing comic sparked a fresh row with the Tories by using an appearance on Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg to accuse Mr Sunak of spouting an “Orwellian word salad” and arguing that he was just as “mendacious” as Boris Johnson.

Ms Kuenssberg appeared taken aback by Mr Elton’s blistering tirade, as the anti-Tory rant risked plunging the corporation into another major controversy about alleged political bias.

Responding to Mr Sunak’s interview with the host on the inflation crisis, the NHS and events in Russia, Mr Elton dismissed the PM’s remarks as an “Orwellian, meaningless, evasive word salad”.

The Labour-supporting comic and author said: “Everyone wanted to believe – and I sort of wanted to believe – that maybe he’s kind of a bit more decent [than Boris Johnson].”

He added: “It turns out he’s just as much of a mendacious, narcissistic sociopath as his previous boss.”

The BBC’s star guest later said the country had been “controlled by chaos” and he would “recommend” that Britons vote out the Tories at the general election. Mr Elton also said he had “great hopes” for Keir Starmer’s Labour party.

Tories reacted with fury to Mr Elton’s diatribe. Claire Bullivant, chief executive of the Boris-backing grassroots group Conservative Democratic Organisation, called the comedian a “champagne socialist” and condemened the BBC.

“The BBC these days seems like one long party political broadcast for the Labour Party. It’s becoming just a soap box for the left,” Ms Bullivant told The Independent. ‘‘It’s a disgrace.”

The Conservative Post editor added: “The BBC isn’t interested in hearing Conservative voices. Yet of course they allow a champagne socialist like Ben Elton all the time in the world to spout complete hate on live TV and then ‘recommend’ viewers vote against the Tories. It’s truly appalling. I’m all for free speech but why should the British people be paying for that? It’s not right.”

Ben Elton ’recommended’ voters kick out Tories (BBC)

Tory MP Steve Brine said the BBC knew what they would they get from the left-wing comedian, and it would be for licence fee payers to judge whether it was wise. “I would think most people in the country are more interested in hearing from another Elton”, he added – referring to Elton John’s appearance at Glastonbury.

Sunak-backing Tory MP Martin Vickers added: “Elton sounds even more out of touch with mainstream opinion that Keir Starmer.”

But Labour’s Liverpool city region mayor Steve Rotheram backed the comic – saying Mr Elton “nailed it”, adding: “He was absolutely spot on fire with his critique of the vacuous nonsense Sunak was spouting”.

Attacking Mr Sunak for his attempts to distance himself from Mr Johnson, Mr Elton said: “He seems to act as though being born into Downing Street six months ago was a miracle birth – he was part of a 13-year cycle which has got us to this point.”

He added: “[Mr Sunak] offered us nothing but mendacity, evasion and vanity – just dripping with vanity.”

Ms Kuenssberg did not challenge his views on the Sunak interview, remarking only that: “It’s fair to say you were not convinced.” Later in the programme, she pointed out that Mr Elton had donated to the Labour party.

A BBC spokesperson said: “We feature a wide range of guests and opinions across the series and ensure we meet our due impartiality commitments.”

The latest row recalls the storm which followed Joe Lycett’s appearance on Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg last year, when the left-wing comedian angrily and sarcastically responded to Liz Truss’s interview by shouting: “You smashed it, Liz!”

He added: “I’m actually very right wing and I love it. I thought she gave great clear answers. I know exactly what she’s up to.”

Joe Lycett joked about being a right-wing Tory supporter (BBC)

The BBC’s director-general Tim Davie later admitted that Mr Lycett’s presence was “frankly bemusing” and said the Kuenssberg production team “hadn’t got everything right” – but denied accusations of bias.

Mr Sunak used his interview with the BBC to urged cash-strapped Britons to “hold our nerve” with interest rate hikes – claiming that was “no alternative” to his plan to stamp out inflation.

The PM said “inflation is the enemy” as he defended the Bank of England’s decision to raise interest rates to a 15-year high of 5 per cent last week, piling pressure on mortgage-holders.

Mr Sunak also said he demonstrated his integrity when he quit Mr Johnson’s government, as he was pressed on his decision to skip a Commons vote on the damning privileges committee report on Partygate.

The prime minister insisted: “I was a person that as chancellor resigned from Boris Johnson’s government” and explained that he missed the vote “because I was actually speaking and attending an event at a fantastic charity called Jewish Care”.

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