The Daily Telegraph

A pres­i­den­tial pose that does noth­ing to calm back­bench ban­ter

- By Camilla Tominey AS­SO­CIATE EDITOR UK News · Politics · Boris Johnson · Tony Blair · Sajid Javid · Dominic Cummings · United Kingdom · Conservative Party of Canada · Michael Gove · Dominic Raab · Elijah Cummings · City of Wakefield · Metropolitan Police Service

It was a pic­ture that spoke a thou­sand words about Rishi Su­nak’s sta­tus as the Gov­ern­ment’s ris­ing star. Flanked by por­traits of past prime min­is­ters, the Chan­cel­lor ap­peared pos­i­tively pres­i­den­tial as he strode up the Down­ing Street stair­case to give a press con­fer­ence on his Win­ter Eco­nomic Plan.

The im­age – one of many sim­i­larly im­pos­ing snap­shots on the Trea­sury’s Flickr ac­count – re­ceived a frosty re­cep­tion in No 10 amid scur­rilous back­bench ban­ter about the 40-yearold rookie be­ing lined up as Boris John­son’s suc­ces­sor.

It didn’t help that the photograph co­in­cided with what one in­sider de­scribed as a “com­mu­ni­ca­tions cock up” over Mr Su­nak’s an­nounce­ment that he was de­lay­ing the au­tumn bud­get last month.

Al­though “very senior” fig­ures are thought to have been in­formed be­fore­hand, the news came as a com­plete sur­prise to most of Down­ing Street.

The source said: “Peo­ple at No 10 were taken aback. The first quite a few peo­ple heard about it was when they saw it on Sky News.”

A sec­ond source cor­rob­o­rated the story, adding: “Very senior peo­ple were aware but there were oth­ers who had no idea and seemed an­gry they hadn’t been given advance no­tice. Some­thing very weird went on that day.”

It is cer­tainly odd when you con­sider that a “joint eco­nomic unit” of spe­cial ad­vis­ers to Mr John­son and Mr Su­nak was set up pre­cisely to avoid ten­sions that fes­tered be­tween No 10 and No 11 dur­ing the Blair/brown era.

In­deed, the very rea­son Sa­jid Javid re­fused to carry on as Chan­cel­lor was be­cause of Do­minic Cum­mings’s de­mand that his Trea­sury team be placed un­der Down­ing Street’s con­trol.

But with Mr Su­nak yes­ter­day re­veal­ing his “frus­tra­tion” at the 10pm cur­few im­posed by the Prime Min­is­ter, the pair ap­pear to be in­creas­ingly pulling in op­po­site direc­tions in their re­sponse to the cri­sis.

The chasm ap­peared at its widest when Mr John­son was con­spic­u­ous by his ab­sence at Mr Su­nak’s Com­mons state­ment on Sept 24 to an­nounce that the fur­lough scheme would be re­placed with a Jobs Sup­port Scheme.

As the PM was at a po­lice sta­tion ad­vo­cat­ing the use of ever more dra­co­nian fines, his Down­ing Street neigh­bour was telling the House how Bri­tain “must learn to live with” the virus and “live with­out fear”. Point­ing out that “the price our coun­try is pay­ing is wider” than the death toll, on­look­ers could only in­fer that Mr John­son and Mr Su­nak were on op­po­site sides of the lives ver­sus liveli­hoods de­bate.

It is un­doubt­edly an un­com­fort­able place for a low-tax, lib­er­tar­ian PM to be. Only on Satur­day, in an in­ter­view with The Daily Tele­graph, Mr John­son was at pains to point out that he plans to pay for the cost of the pan­demic through a “free mar­ket-led re­cov­ery”, dis­miss­ing talk of ri­valry be­tween him and Mr Su­nak as “untrue”.

In­sist­ing yes­ter­day that the Tories would not “bor­row our way out of any hole” and had a “sa­cred re­spon­si­bil­ity” to bal­ance the books, it is lit­tle won­der Mr Su­nak also felt the need to shower praise on Mr John­son.

De­scrib­ing his “friend­ship” as “in­valu­able”, dur­ing a speech at the vir­tual Con­ser­va­tive party con­fer­ence, he said: “I’ve seen up close the bur­den the Prime Min­is­ter car­ries. We all know he has an abil­ity to con­nect with peo­ple in a way few politi­cians man­age. It is a spe­cial and rare qual­ity.

“But what the com­men­ta­tors don’t see, the thing I see, is the con­cern and care he feels, ev­ery day, for the well-be­ing of the peo­ple of our coun­try.

“Yes, it’s been dif­fi­cult, chal­lenges are part of the job, but on the big calls, in the big mo­ments, Boris John­son has got it right and we need that lead­er­ship.”

Seem­ingly keen to stress his rel­a­tive in­ex­pe­ri­ence, he thanked Mr John­son for “en­trust­ing me with this job” and at a later press con­fer­ence, re­vealed he al­ways calls him “Prime Min­is­ter”, de­spite his re­quest to call him “Boris”.

He even went so far as to rule him­self out as a pos­si­ble ri­val. Asked whether he wants to be prime min­is­ter, he replied: “Def­i­nitely not, see­ing what the PM has to deal with. This is a job hard enough for me.”

Re­cent polls sug­gest the pub­lic has more con­fi­dence in the Chan­cel­lor than he has in him­self. On Sun­day, a sur­vey found 47 per cent of the pub­lic would pre­fer to see Mr Su­nak re­place Mr John­son – dwarf­ing the next near­est ri­val Michael Gove, the Cabi­net Of­fice Min­is­ter, tied on seven per cent with Do­minic Raab, the For­eign Sec­re­tary.

Could this ex­plain rumours of Mr Cum­mings – his­tor­i­cally al­ways closely al­lied to Mr Gove – “cosy­ing up” to Mr Su­nak in re­cent weeks, af­ter his father-in-law Sir Humphry Wake­field re­marked that the PM planned to step down in six months’ time?

In­sid­ers say the PM’S chief ad­viser has been “talk­ing up” the Chan­cel­lor in meet­ings af­ter he agreed over the sum­mer to free up a £500 mil­lion in­vest­ment in the col­lapsed satel­lite op­er­a­tor Oneweb, help­ing to achieve Mr Cum­mings’ dream of the UK be­ing at the fore­front of space tech­nol­ogy.

“There’s lots of whis­pers about Dom ma­noeu­vring,” said a source. “He won’t ever put all his eggs in one bas­ket.”

Yet with Tory MPS in­sist­ing that the next PM will be “any­one not aligned to Cum­mings”, the in­ven­tor of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme might want to be care­ful who he breaks bread with.

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 ??  ?? Rishi Su­nak on the Down­ing Street stairs
Rishi Su­nak on the Down­ing Street stairs

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