Liz Truss is a protégé of Boris Johnson, as was Rishi Sunak. But she has stayed loyal to Johnson. And she is hardly likely to reward the man who brought Johnson down.
That Rishi Sunak has lost out on his bid for prime ministership is now pretty much certain, we await only a formal announcement on September 5 on what is known already. The question is what Sunak will do next. His best hopes for some sort of Plan B don’t look promising either.
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His best hope now could be a top position in Liz Truss’s cabinet. Towards that end, he is encouraged by sentiments within the Conservative Party that the bruising contest for leadership should be followed by conciliation and a closing of ranks into a public show of togetherness. That could come if the winner includes the other in the Cabinet.
Asked, Rishi Sunak has said yes. Asked, Liz Truss has said nothing of the kind. She has been growing increasingly more confident, and with that has come a more and more strident dismissal of the economic plans Sunak is offering that conflict with Truss’s plans for tax cuts. Those are intentions she has been repeating both to underline her own position and to rubbish Sunak’s. She doesn’t sound like she’s about to offer Sunak a top job.
Sunak has made it clear he is looking for one. Confronted pointedly at the hustings in Birmingham with reported remarks that he would not look for a place in Truss’s cabinet, Sunak walked circles around that question to suggest that he was not ruling out acceptance should there be an offer. He is now looking for a job offer from a rival he has not just opposed but publicly ridiculed for offering fake fairy tales in place of a realistic plan such as his.
Liz Truss is a protégé of Boris Johnson, as was Rishi Sunak. But she has stayed loyal to Johnson. And she is hardly likely to reward the man who brought Johnson down. To give Sunak a top place she would have to turn against the way she’s been going so far and turn against Johnson. In Westminster games nothing is impossible, but this looks far from likely.
In an extraordinary admission at the hustings in Cheltenham, Sunak let on that he has been trying to reach Johnson, who was not answering or responding in any way to calls from him. His use of the plural was telling; he has been trying to reach Johnson again and again, and the Prime Minister, for a few more days, doesn’t want to know Sunak.
Sunak said that he had both messaged Johnson, and tried calling but that the PM “perhaps not surprisingly” had not responded. That sounds like a political death knell for Rishi Sunak.
Johnson has not denied that Sunak tried to reach him and that he didn’t respond. “That’s one of those Westminster questions that doesn’t change the price of fish,” Johnson said during a visit to North Wales. “There are plenty of things that do change the price of fish, not least the price of energy, but that’s not one of them.”
Read into that fishy reply what you will, but it’s unmistakably a refusal to endorse Sunak. And an unmistakable affirmation that he has been snubbing his former chancellor. Nobody is forgetting a remark from a senior official at 10 Downing Street describing Sunak as “a treacherous bastard” immediately after he brought Johnson down.
Sunak has made moves of late to dress his decision as functionally sensible. He quit Johnson’s government, he said, because there was a “significant difference with him how to handle the economic challenges that were ahead of us.” A prime minister and chancellor of the exchequer need to be “joined at the hip on economic policy, particularly at a time when the economy faces real challenges.” He added: “So I was left with no choice but to resign, I am sad that I had to.”
That is a little different from his repeated campaign lines that his prime aim as prime minister would be to “restore trust”, implying not very subtly that people had lost trust in Johnson’s government. In that, he is right, of course. But it’s too late for him to now wish he hadn’t said that or indeed that he had resigned when he did.
— London Eye is a weekly column by CNBC-TV18’s Sanjay Suri, which gives a peek at business-as-unusual from London and around.
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