Rishi Sunak understands. Rishi Sunak knows how tough it is out there for struggling families.
And how better to show you understand than to slash 5p off a litre of petrol – and then, before that cut has taken effect, dash to your local petrol station, borrow a nice, ordinary-looking Kia Rio from a man who works there, then chuck thirty quid’s worth in while having your picture taken (because what’s thirty quid, after all?), all while still wearing the lapel mic belonging to the TV crew you asked to come with you to film the whole thing?
That’s how the little people know you’re on their side, isn’t it? Little people like Connor, the shop assistant from New Cross Sainsbury’s, who at least got perhaps as much as a third of a tank of free petrol out of the chancellor of the exchequer. Connor can count himself lucky.
Not quite as lucky as if the chancellor had managed to wait just that little bit longer, specifically for his own fuel-duty cut to kick in at 6pm – then Rishi’s thirty notes would have landed our grateful Kia Rio owner half a litre extra, but that’s just not something Rishi’s ever going to be worried about.
Not when he knows that as soon as he’s done at the pump he’s going to actually have to go inside, pick up a can of Coke and pay for the stuff. And that isn’t altogether easy when no one’s explained to you the difference between a chip-and-pin machine and the shop assistant’s barcode scanner, so you just mash your debit card against the perspex Covid screen and hope for the best.
Is this all a bit harsh? Well, it serves, yet again, as part of the constant reminder to politicians that absolutely no one is making you ask people to come and take pictures of you doing entirely mundane things, where you are incredibly likely to make a pantomime arse of yourself.
Could it be that the nation alternating between laughing at Sunak and howling with despair at how little he’s done to help them is the source of his new-found tetchiness, as demonstrated on the Today programme on Thursday morning?
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Not that long ago, back when no one really knew who Rishi Sunak was, everybody thought he was very obviously a complete legend, because he bowled straight into the big time out of nowhere and started directly paying everyone’s wages, and continued to do so for the best part of two years.
But things aren’t so easy now. Definitely not if you’re on benefits and you’re having to choose between feeding your kids and feeding the gas meter, as a woman called Sarah in Birmingham is currently doing. What is Rishi doing to help Sarah, exactly?
Well, he explained, there’s the cut in fuel duty, the cut in national insurance contributions, and the cut in income tax; but don’t dare have the temerity to try to tell the chancellor – as Mishal Husain did – that absolutely none of this is of any help to someone who doesn’t have a car, and doesn’t earn enough money to pay income tax or national insurance in the first place, because you’ll just come up against the wall of tetchiness.
You’ll be told: “If you’d just give me a chance to answer the question that would be marvellous,” and then you’ll politely sit in silence while he doesn’t answer it for the third time in a row.
And therein lies the problem. He doesn’t have the answers. And, in the end, no amount of ostentatiously purchased full-fat Cokes can conceal the increasingly obvious fact that he really is quite a bit of a lightweight.