Daily Mail

Do the ex-head boys in Downing St have the daring and the imaginatio­n to get us out of this mess?

- Stephen Glover

RISHI SUNAK and Jeremy Hunt, the Chancellor, have several things in common. Perhaps the most interestin­g is that they were both head boys of their respective public schools.

In fact, I believe this is only the second time in British history that the occupants of No 10 and No 11 Downing Street can both lay claim to being former head boys. They demonstrat­e the virtues and vices of this select group.

The first occasion was when Boris Johnson was PM and Rishi lived next door. Boris was Captain of School — effectivel­y head boy — at Eton. Why one of life’s Lords of Misrule was appointed to such an unlikely role is an enduring mystery.

Being head boy at a major public school (Mr Sunak went to Winchester, Mr Hunt to Charterhou­se) is a big deal. Such people used to enjoy special privileges, and in some schools wielded immense power. Only 50 or so years ago, many of them were allowed (or encouraged) to beat naughty junior boys.

The virtues of head boys (and, I daresay, girls) is that they are usually sensible and discipline­d, which is why they are chosen. They are enforcers for the headmaster. They stand for order in what otherwise might be a sea of chaos.

On the downside — or at any rate a considerat­ion less obviously in their favour — those who fulfil this role tend to be convention­al, Boris being the exception to the rule. They are seldom radical. They may lack imaginatio­n. The worst of the breed can be ‘goody-goodies’.

Point for pedants: Mr Sunak was Senior Commoner Prefect at Winchester, since the head boy at the school is invariably a scholar, which Rishi was not. But he ‘partnered’ the head boy as a co-equal.

Few will dispute that the Prime Minister and the Chancellor have supplied welcome stability after the anarchy of Liz Truss’s weeks in office, when she and her sidekick, Kwasi Kwarteng, seemed hell-bent on breaking every rule in the book.

Liz Truss is not in the head girl mould. In her late adolescenc­e she advocated the legalisati­on of cannabis and the abolition of the monarchy. I imagine her as a youthful rebel, with holes in her tights and a subversive curl to her lip. If head boys Sunak or Hunt had come across her then, they wouldn’t have been pleased.

Margaret Thatcher, by contrast, was aptly made head girl of Grantham Girls’ School in 1942. As an adult, she was super- organised, reliable and bossy, though able to depart from the tram lines of orthodox thought.

Anyway, in many respects I was grateful when Rishi Sunak and Jeremy Hunt came to the rescue after we had been shoved on to an especially disorienti­ng rollercoas­ter by Liz and Kwasi. Men of their type exude competence, which is what we yearned for.

And yet, examining their behaviour over recent weeks and waiting for today’s Autumn Statement (or Budget), I find myself wondering whether having two former head boys in Downing Street isn’t one too many.

Look, for example, at the way in which Rishi lectured Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, at this week’s meeting in Indonesia of 20 leaders of the world’s largest economies.

The Prime Minister told Lavrov in no uncertain terms that Russia should ‘ get out of Ukraine and end this barbaric war’, as he blamed the conflict for worsening global economic challenges.

He might as well have said: ‘ Come off it, Lavrov! You’re letting the side down. We can’t have behaviour like this. Be a good fellow, and pop back to Moscow and tell Vladimir he must call the whole thing off. Then we can all get back to normal.’

Wasn’t this rather absurd? You could lecture a monster such as Lavrov for 100 years without inducing him to flicker an eyelid. Was Mr Sunak signalling his virtue? Or did he naively imagine he could shift the intransige­nt Russian? Either way, this performanc­e jarred on me, and made me think.

Another example of apparent head boy-itis was his eagerness to sign an agreement with President Emmanuel Macron and the French government so that it will, in exchange for a few more million quid, suddenly cooperate by preventing migrants from crossing the Channel (though it’s in its interests to get rid of them).

THIS really is the triumph of hope over experience. It won’t work. Is it naivety again? Or is he simply kicking the ball into the Channel? Imagine Macron had been the head boy of a rival school which cheated at games and failed to offer visiting teams adequate supplies of buns and lemonade — Sunak wouldn’t have been so easily taken in.

These are early days, I know. And I repeat that I’m glad our new Prime Minister is a reassuring presence who appears (unlike Truss and, let’s be honest, Boris for much of the time) to be master of the facts.

Yet I expect that in due course there will be a capitulati­on to the EU over the Northern Ireland Protocol. I also think we should be worried about Mr Sunak’s sudden cosying up to the Chinese, who have surely

They are convention­al, seldom radical. The worst of the breed can even be goody-goodies

establishe­d that they can never be trusted friends.

Mr Sunak will seemingly do what the headmaster tells him — the headmaster being force majeure or the way of the world or the weight of orthodox opinion or the political consensus. Authentic head boys do not think too much for themselves.

That brings me back to Jeremy Hunt. I confess I’m more annoyed than I probably should be by his know- all, superior looks, and his appearance of smugness. He reminds me of head boys I have known — and avoided.

His message — delivered, it must be said, without any obvious signs of regret — is that it’s going to be tough but he has our best interests at heart. Bend over! This is going to hurt but it will be good for you in the long run, and you may even thank me for it one day.

Today’s Budget — let’s call it that — will mark a partial return to austerity, and take taxation to its highest ever level in peacetime. We will be told there is no other way. I think the truth is that the Chancellor and Prime Minister are incapable of conceiving of any other way. That doesn’t mean there isn’t one.

Even if they are correct, Messrs Sunak and Hunt should have the good grace to explain why, uniquely among the world’s major economies, and on the cusp of a recession, Britain is being subjected to such drastic medicine.

If I am right, and Mr Hunt raises tax to heights unknown except in times of war, he should, as a Tory, hang his head in shame. I don’t expect he will.

Perhaps I am being unduly pessimisti­c and Jeremy Hunt, instead of being the harbinger of doom everyone expects, will today lay out an inspiring vision for recovery and growth. If only!

We should all have the occasional head boy to guide us through life. I’m grateful for the stability which these two characteri­stic representa­tives of their breed have brought. But we are going to need imaginatio­n and daring to get us out of the mess we’re in.

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