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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
John Crace

You don’t need to be a ship-jumping polls guru to work out Rish!’s numbers are dire

Rishi Sunak
Rishi Sunak on a visit to Scarborough on Thursday. Photograph: Reuters

Drip, drip, drip. The first rule of any political rebellion is to learn how to count. Something the none too bright Simon Clarke has yet to master. Though, to be fair, it is more than possible that several MPs who promised to support his call for Rishi Sunak to be replaced faded back into the shadows when the time came. Disloyalty can be contagious. If you can betray Rish! then it’s all too easy to betray Simple Simon. And the Tory right are not noted for keeping their promises.

So Clarke had been left to go it alone. A one-man rebellion shouted down by Tories from both the left and the right of the party. The closest to unity the Conservatives had come in months. And all because Simple Simon had committed the cardinal sin of telling the truth.

That kind of error just can’t be tolerated. Every Tory knows the polling is desperate, that Sunak is desperately unpopular and that the government faces annihilation at the election. It’s just that this information has to be borne with a stoicism bordering on denial. Not least because to suggest doing something about it by replacing Rishi risks a more immediate disaster of yet another unelected prime minister. It’s lose-lose.

Having originally stomped off in a sulk after finding himself on his own, Simple Simon came out of hiding for a few minutes to give a short interview to the BBC. Mainly it seemed to troll Liz Truss with a few gags about iceberg lettuces – presumably he had imagined she would be putting herself forward as the nation’s saviour – rather than to add anything new.

His basic argument was that the Tories were fucked if they stuck with Rishi and fucked if they didn’t. But the latter option might be more exciting. And it wasn’t as if the government was doing anything.

But it turned out Simple Simon wasn’t entirely alone. Because also jumping ship was Will Dry, a previously unknown special adviser in No 10. Dry, it turned out, was 26 going on 14. A photo of him revealed a teen who had been rejected at an audition for The Inbetweeners on the grounds that he looked far too young.

And yet Will had somehow come to be a Downing Street essential. Sunak couldn’t function without him. The man boy, who knew little and had done less, was more or less running the country. No wonder everything is all going so well.

But in his short working life, Dry has been on quite the journey. As a second-year undergraduate, he was part of a campaign to rejoin the EU. That seems to be the last sensible thing anyone can remember him doing. Because even as it became clearer to everyone that all of the so-called Brexit bonuses had turned out to be imaginary, Will became a Brexit believer and a signed-up member of the Sunak fan club.

Will couldn’t leave it there, though. For now Sunak is too mainstream, too centrist for him. The Rwanda plan is for wimps. So Dry has jumped ship and hooked up with the Conservative Britain Alliance (CBA), a largely anonymous group of rightwing misfits headed up by that serial failure David Frost.

Give Dry a few more minutes and he’ll be in bed with Richard Tice and Nigel Farage. And by the end of the year he will be working with Vladimir Putin. You get the feeling Dry likes strong government.

It seems that Will’s specialism is polling. Some call him a guru. That would be his imaginary friends. After all, you don’t need to be a genius to work out that the polling data for Sunak is dire. And his main contribution to his new – temporary – soulmates at the CBA has been to compile one of the most idiotic questionnaires in polling history.

“If there was a really brilliant Tory leader, one who everybody in the country really liked and could cut taxes while not crashing the economy, who could find a cure for dementia and bring world peace: would you then vote for him, rather than Keir Starmer?” Clearly, the boy will go far.

On second thoughts, maybe you can see why Tories aren’t rushing to rally behind Simple Simon. From one loser to another. But in the meantime, the government has to maintain the fiction that it is actually doing something other than fighting among itself. So it was the turn of the junior policing minister, Chris Philp, to look busy.

Philp is something of a collector’s item. Widely considered – even by fellow ministers – to be less than competent, but adored by himself. Seemingly undeterred by his slide down the pecking order – he was once a cabinet minister under Liz Truss, a sure sign that he isn’t actually very good – Chris is quite happy to repeat any nonsense that anyone in power wants him to.

It’s doubtful he actually believes anything much at all, because to believe requires some thought and some integrity. Albeit misguided. Rather he is the brown-noser’s brown-noser.

Still, the Philpster loves himself. Even though he lacks self-awareness. His Twitter biography describes him as a “serial entrepreneur”. Maybe one day he will get round to repaying those who lost thousands when businesses he founded went bankrupt. Just a thought. But for Thursday morning, Chris was out and about on the airwaves bigging up the government’s latest ideas to reduce knife crime.

It didn’t go altogether to plan. Not least because every interviewer could spot the very obvious flaws. First, the government had come up with 16 previous proposals that hadn’t worked. Why should this one? Especially when it wasn’t due to be implemented until the autumn.

Philp was all bristle and bustle. No one could possibly have foreseen that manufacturers would get around legislation by making zombie knives without markings, he said. That had really blindsided him.

And no, he hadn’t thought to include swords because … because … why would he? “Look,” he continued. “I know the legislation will need tightening up, but we can tighten it up later.”

Run that past us again. You know it’s bad legislation but you can’t be bothered to get it right now? Yup, that was exactly it, Chris nodded enthusiastically.

So why had the government cut youth services by 75%? That was because Labour had crashed the economy. Not only was this untrue, but it’s a measure of the failure. The Tories have been in power for 14 years and are still disowning any responsibility.

And that was that. Philp came back to the Home Office, genuinely believing he had nailed it. This can’t go on. The next rebellion can’t be far away.

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