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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Marina Hyde

What a relief! Sunak the Sensible is here and the chaos has all magically gone away

Rishi Sunak at Conservative party HQ on 24 October 2022.
Thumbs up … Rishi Sunak at Conservative party HQ on Tuesday. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Here we are, then. The UK prime minister has regenerated as Rishi Sunak, after several seasons of some of the worst writing in political primetime, which occasionally looked capable of killing off the entire franchise. The country has its first British Asian prime minister, which is a truly significant historical moment. It would be nice to think that people who can accept Downing Street being cast in this way will eventually be able to handle the really important roles – like telly time-travellers and movie spies – being played by non-white actors, without losing their minds and reaching for the word “woke”.

On Tuesday morning, Liz Truss addressed the nation in Downing Street, and shared the key takeaway of her stint as the shortest-serving prime minister in British political history: she was right, and everyone else was wrong. Hey, she’s Elizabeth Seneca Truss, and she will have her hot take – in this life or the next. The rest of us are merely tasked with living through the clean-up. On which note, Jeremy Hunt’s Halloween budget is likely to be so horrifying it can go trick-or-treating dressed as itself.

Still, on to Rishi. Who is this new leading man, with the hair of a latex Ronald Reagan mask, and the smile of a guy informing the camera: “Like Lord Sugar, I play to win”? Who is this highly acclaimed knitwear influencer, possessed of a godlike ability to identify James Perse cashmere not simply by season, but by gauge and ply? Who is this guy whose most relatable personality trait seems to be “Star Wars fan”, yet who genuinely described The Rise of Skywalker as a “great night out”? Who is this new prime minister, who was once – for really quite a long time back there – the Conservative party’s idea of a cool person?

Watching his speech outside No 10 on Tuesday morning, many commentators seem to have found Sunak’s gravitas convincing, but you do have to set that against the fact that, as chancellor, he couldn’t even convince his own wife to pay him tax. It’ll be interesting to see if he can convince his own MPs to vote for things they’re not crazy about – he seemed to go on an awful lot about the 2019 manifesto, for a guy who’ll soon be advising them to burn it for warmth.

Even the Tory grandees honking about how supremely “sensible” Sunak is – and we’ll have more on them in a minute – might have to decide how real they like their realpolitik. Back in April, I was very struck by a quote on Sunak’s Ukraine thinking, given to the Sunday Times by one of his allies. “He thinks Putin will still be there and that there will have to be a deal with him,” this ran, “and if that’s the case is it really worth the pain to the economy.” Does he still think that? Let the journey of discovery commence!

As for the voters, they’re another known unknown. Hand on heart, I’ve never been able to shake the image of Sunak doing a thumbs-up through the window of a kitchenware shop during the pandemic – a picture he tweeted with the words: “I can’t wait to get back to the pub … and I don’t even drink.” It’s unclear what the public will make of Rishi Sunak. British people tend to be more relaxed about a number of sex crimes than they are about the voluntary rejection of alcohol.

The former chancellor’s previous practice of appending his signature to Instagrammable government spending announcements led to the accusation that he was too slick. Those days are certainly in the past. I don’t ask for a lot – it saves time – but I do like a prime minister who looks convincingly able to exit his own front door in one take. Perhaps Sunak will learn on the job, like he did with the card reader. It occasionally feels like there’s something wrong with his circuitry – Monday’s speech at Conservative HQ had all the easy charm of a sedated train operator gearing up for his 300th delivery of the epigram “see it, say it, sorted”. Tuesday’s Downing Street speech was at least an improvement on that, but saw Sunak return to the CBeebies Bedtime Stories delivery he favoured during Covid. “Hey there, guys! Hope you’re all sitting comfortably in your PJs, even though I’m going to have to tax all nightwear and make some very, very difficult decisions about your teddies … ”

Away from the Westminster bubble, you sense the electorate may struggle to “move on” from the past few weeks quite as easily as the Tory grandees currently swarming the airwaves to explain that the natural party of government is back in town. Their takes seem to be based on a somewhat adorable view of the British public: that if you look them in the eye and call them sir, they’ll actually be very chilled about their financial hardship having significantly increased specifically because of your party’s recent actions.

Like me, you may have read a quite mind-boggling load of bollocks about new dawns and grownups and sensible people being back in charge, and how – eventually – “the system” has proved robust, and worked. Really? The government of the United Kingdom has been effectively paralysed since Boris Johnson’s July resignation statement, even as the country slid deeper into its many interwoven crises. We’ve just witnessed seven weeks of pure chaos, which have demonstrably and measurably made an already dire situation worse for people in a way that now has to be part of future calculations. Huge thanks to all these guys wanging on about the system working, on the very day our third prime minister in 50 days is appointed, but DO ME A FAVOUR. Get out of your wing-backed armchair or your web browser and wander down any high street in the land going, “Well, sir, I think you’ll find the system has worked!”, and see how you get on.

I certainly hooted my way through a column in the Times by former Tory leader William Hague suggesting that Sunak’s election has immediately restored the UK to some kind of vibes-based international order. “A highly competent team of ministers from across the party can be assembled,” Hague insisted, apparently casting Sunak as a Westminster Nick Fury convening the Avengers. Well, a highly competent team CAN be assembled – and yet, just as I am about to press send on this article, I see that Sunak has brought the sensationally low-competence, low-calibre Suella Braverman back as home secretary. What has she ever achieved, bar “annoying all the right people”? She’s only had one week off after her security breach! Oh my God, hang on - Oliver Dowden too! Dowden! Dominic effing Raab!

Forgive me, forgive me – we mustn’t interrupt the grownups talking over our heads. “After being an object of global pity in recent months,” Hague went on to explain, “Britain will again be an example of government being conducted with professionalism, honesty, and reliability.” Mm. I do, as a general rule, try to steer clear of political predictions, but … let’s wait and see, shall we?!

• Marina Hyde is a Guardian columnist

• Join Hugh Muir, Polly Toynbee, Jessica Elgot and John Crace, who will discuss the downfall of Liz Truss and the rise of Rishi Sunak and the future of Tory party, on Wednesday 26 October, 8-9pm BST. Book tickets at

• What Just Happened?! by Marina Hyde (Guardian Faber, £20). To support the Guardian and Observer, order your copy at Delivery charges may apply

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