The Longer Read

No more Mr Nice Guy: does Sunak really have what it takes to fight dirty?

‘Reasonable Rishi’ seems to have morphed into ‘Small Boats and Single Sex Spaces Sunak’. His apparent lurch to the right on migration and culture wars has got Andrew Grice thinking: who is the Real Rishi?

Thursday 17 August 2023 16:14 BST
<p>The PM’s nice guy image has been tarnished as he takes aim at Labour on social issues </p>

The PM’s nice guy image has been tarnished as he takes aim at Labour on social issues

When Nigel Lawson died in April, Rishi Sunak was quick to recall that when he, Sunak, became chancellor, one of his first acts was to hang a picture of his Thatcher-era predecessor above his desk.

Sunak did not remind us that he also chose portraits of Labour’s Hugh Gaitskell and William Gladstone, the four-time Liberal prime minister. While he admired Gaitskell’s scepticism about European integration and Gladstone’s fiscal conservatism, his decision to display politicians from three different parties was revealing: Sunak knows his own mind but sometimes keeps the rest of us guessing about his true instincts.

His public image is as “Reasonable Rishi”, the polite internationalist equally at home in California and London, a workaholic technocrat happier poring over a spreadsheet than making a tub-thumping speech. He is also “Rich Rishi”, though opinion polls suggest that while his family’s wealth doesn’t really concern voters, they worry he is “out of touch” and cannot relate to their struggles in the cost of living crisis. He compounded his problem with silly stunts like filling up someone else’s car and not knowing how to use contactless payment.

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