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It’s difficult winning against Andrew Neil, the longtime BBC political presenter who was the leading face of GB News for a month in 2021 and who currently has his own Friday evening show on Channel 4.

When it comes to grilling politicians, no one does it better than he.

Rishi Sunak agreed to subject himself to Neil’s unfailing command of the facts. So far, Liz Truss — as did Boris Johnson — has not committed to the same.

Neil’s interview

Sunak appeared with Neil on Friday, July 29, 2022, to put forth his case for becoming the next leader of the Conservative Party and, by extension, the United Kingdom’s next Prime Minister.

Having watched the Q&A session, I thought that Rishi did a good job.

However, there was a real dissonance between what he said his policies involved and what Neil said they did.

As such, it made for awkward viewing. Who was telling the truth? I was left none the wiser.

At times, I was focusing on Neil’s hair, which he has dyed a dark brown. His natural colour is ginger.

Rishi presented himself as the sensible, cautious candidate with regard to tax and the deficit:

Rishi defended raising taxes to fund the NHS. He did well in preventing his irritability from showing, but a vulnerability did slip out here:

Neil accused him of being ‘consistently inconsistent’ with regard to tax reform, but Rishi said that’s how it works:

Hmm.

Neil asked Rishi about his wife’s non-dom status. The former Chancellor gave a short reply, saying that she addressed it. This did not satisfy me, but then I don’t have a vote in this contest:

Yes, there are family obligations here, it would seem. Those appear to involve his in-laws.

Neil was surprised at Rishi’s answer about curbing the number of refugees. What Neil doesn’t realise is that legal immigrants and their children take a much different view on migration than the British metropolitan elite.

Neil also managed to squeeze in Rishi’s televised statement from his teenage years in 2001 in which he said he had no working class friends:

Neil concluded by reiterating that Liz Truss was still welcome to appear on his show.

I did not really know what to make of this half-hour broadcast.

Only the Mail had any commentary on it.

One article with more dialogue from the programme is ‘Sunak is forced to deny he has shown a “lack of consistency” on VAT to Andrew Neil’.

An excerpt follows:

Veteran broadcaster Andrew Neil said Mr Sunak’s approach of tightening fiscal policy risks recession in an interview on Channel 4.

The Tory leadership hopeful replied: ‘No, if you look at what’s happening around the world, it’s inflation that is slowing economies down. It’s rising interest rates that are already putting a brake on economic activity.

‘And my concern is that I want to get to grips with inflation as quickly as possible because inflation makes everybody poorer. It erodes people’s living standards.’

He also insisted his policy to hike national insurance thresholds was ‘undoubtedly, objectively progressive’ when Neil suggested it penalised workers.

‘It’s an entirely progressive measure,’ Mr Sunak said. ‘Raising thresholds means that those with the broadest shoulders contribute the most.’

The heated exchange resulted in Neil saying that the OECD has said that Mr Sunak’s plans will result in a recession for the UK economy – which the former Chancellor disputed. 

It came as Mr Sunak sat down with the fearless interviewer Mr Neil on Channel Four – after frontrunner Liz Truss refused to do the same.

Mr Neil once again extended the hand to come on his show to the Foreign Secretary – saying the ‘invitation is still open’.

The Southampton-born millionaire repeated his claims that tax rises were necessary for paying for Covid measures and said that he did not want to pass debt onto future generations.

He said that it would be the ‘easiest thing in the world’ to cut taxes to aide his leadership campaign but that he thought it was not the responsible thing to do.

Mr Neil hit out at Mr Sunak’s wife’s non-dom status which hit the papers earlier this year but the former Chancellor attempted to draw a line under the line of questioning, saying that he was the one running for office – not his partner.

The line of questioning made Mr Sunak visibly uncomfortable as he tried to move on from the scandal.

The tax cuts intended to fund the NHS were another line with Mr Neil used to attack Mr Sunak – as the interviewer quoted suggestions that the waiting lists on the NHS will reach 10 million in the next two years.

Mr Sunak attempted to distance himself from the Conservative’s record on health after the fierce Scot tried to pin the NHS’s problems on him – saying that he has left Government to change course on the NHS.

He added that he wanted to set up over 100 ‘elective surgery hubs’ to bring down the backlog. 

Henry Deedes examined the optics of the interview: ‘The ex-chancellor sat awkwardly, like a man about to undergo an enema’.

Excerpts follow:

We immediately saw Sunak sat behind a desk, his hands placed slightly awkwardly on top of each other. Across his mouth was smeared a distinctly uncomfortable grin. He looked like a man nervously waiting to undergo an enema …

Tax was the main topic, namely why Rishi as chancellor made us pay so much of it. Sunak said he wanted to pay down the cost of the pandemic rather than saddle our grandchildren with all that debt. ‘I’d like to give people all these nice things – don’t you think that’d make my life easier?’ he pleaded.

Rishi kept calling Neil by his first name. Most of his replies began with a chummy ‘look, Andrew’. Doubtless his spin doctors thought familiarity might soften the old brute. It didn’t.

Neil kept coming at him over tax rises. A Bren gun with ceaseless ammunition. Pop, pop, pop. 

Why had he frozen the income tax threshold? Why had he left comfortable pensioners alone? Why were so many people paying the top rate? Unfortunately for Sunak, Neil is that rare thing in journalism – someone who actually understands economics …

Talk turned toward the NHS. Neil pointed out that waiting lists were up, despite the gazillions of pounds which get thrown at the Health Service every year. ‘These are complex issues, Andrew,’ Rishi mansplained.

Yes, yes, said Neil. But it had gotten worse on the Government’s watch. ‘Andrew, I left the Government,’ pleaded Rishi. 

‘Yes, but only a few days ago,’ barked Neil. Sunak’s answer to the NHS backlog was to set up a task force. Yes, that should do it!

There was mention of a recent video which surfaced of Sunak in which he told an interviewer he didn’t know any working class people. 

Bit odd for someone who claims to come from such a modest background. ‘I grew up working in my mother’s pharmacy,’ Sunak reasoned. ‘We know all that,’ sighed Neil witheringly.

He seemed to think Sunak’s ’umble roots were a tad overplayed. Especially since he was schooled at Winchester. Neil’s intellect of course was forged and honed at Paisley Grammar.

A brief tit-for-tat developed over Lady Sunak’s non-dom tax status. ‘I’m the one running for office, not my wife,’ said Rishi. His voice lowered a bit at this point. He shot Neil a steely look as if to say ‘Let’s leave her out of this, shall we?’ Respect.

We were now out of time. To be fair to Sunak he was still standing. But only just.

Incidentally, his opponent Liz Truss had given Neil’s offer of an interview a wide swerve. ‘Her choice, of course,’ said Neil, voice laced with irritation. Chicken? Jolly wise, I’d say…

More scrutiny

Last week, Rishi’s policies and personal life came under more scrutiny.

A Mail headline from April 24 resurfaced about his lavish Yorkshire home, which has a heated pool and will soon have a new gym and tennis courts. Incidentally, he has other homes, including a pricey mews house in London:

https://image.vuukle.com/afdabdfb-de55-452b-b000-43e4d45f1094-746e76e9-fa64-4195-a1fb-3184d7957389

Just a little over a year ago, on July 2, 2021, Asia Financial reported that Rishi wanted more trade between the UK and China:

UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak called for a “mature and balanced relationship” with China that helps British firms to exploit “the potential of a fast-growing financial services market with total assets worth £40 trillion” ($55 trillion) in a speech on Thursday July 1 …

Sunak set out alternative plans for an independent financial services policy for the UK and spent more time discussing opportunities in China than the US, which is the UK’s most important bilateral partner.

He attempted to frame the opportunity to sell financial services to China within a context of maintaining principles such as openness and commitment to a rules-based order.

“Too often, the debate on China lacks nuance,” Sunak said. “Some people on both sides argue either that we should sever all ties or focus solely on commercial opportunities at the expense of our values. Neither position adequately reflects the reality of our relationship with a vast, complex country, with a long history.”

Sunak highlighted the appeal of China’s financial services market for UK firms, as well as the need to cooperate on global issues like health, ageing, climate and biodiversity.

He seemed to effectively offer China the opportunity to agree different financial services terms with the UK than the EU, now that Brexit has arrived without a deal on mutual recognition of standards across Europe – which was the former target of “equivalence” of regulation.

Hmm. Interesting. His father-in-law’s Infosys has an office in China.

A year later, on July 25, after China’s Global Times endorsed him as the next Conservative Party leader, he walked back his support and claimed Liz Truss was the greater supporter of the Communist nation.

Guido Fawkes reported (red emphases his):

It’s unsurprising, given his tacit endorsement from the Chinese propaganda arm Global Times, that Rishi has decided to go in hard on the country’s security threat this morning. Declaring the Chinese Communist Party “the largest threat to Britain and the world’s security and prosperity this century”, Sunak attacks Liz for “[rolling] out the red carpet” and turning “a blind eye to China’s nefarious activity and ambitions”. He calls for a new NATO alliance to be set up to counter it the threat, and pledges to close all 30 Confucius centres, which teach Mandarin in the UK and are thought to be used as fronts by the Chinese intelligence services.

In response Team Truss returned fire last night, using Iain Duncan Smith to call the policy “surprising” and asking where Sinophobe Sunak has been for the last two years. Her team points to the above Sunak’s endorsement by Global Times, and says he has been consistently soft on China …

In response, a Truss ally bluntly tells Guido that Sunak’s team are “moronic”, given not only was Truss responsible for childcare policy as an education minister, universities policy was run out of the business department at the time. David Willets was the BIS minister responsible, who – whilst yet to declare in this leadership election – has backed Sunak’s tax rises. 

Guido also exposed the fact that the Artichoke Trust received £1,234,682 through Cultural Recovery Grants during the pandemic, when Rishi was Chancellor.

The Artichoke Trust puts out ‘art’ like this:

Clearly, not much scrutiny took place during the pandemic. No doubt, the Treasury were all in a rush to send out grants — taxpayers’ money — to all and sundry.

On Tuesday, July 26, Rishi did a huge tax U-turn, imitating his rival Liz Truss.

Only days before, Rishi told Liz that it would be ‘immoral’ to lower taxes, yet, here he was at the beginning of last week reversing that to sound more like his rival:

Guido rightly asked why Rishi did not cut VAT on energy bills when he was Chancellor. Oddly, he now advocates the policy:

This is what the former Chancellor said in February 2022:

Guido has more on his February comments here.

On July 27, the Mail on Sunday had an article about his U-turn, saying he was ‘under pressure’ since the BBC debate of July 25 (emphases in purple mine):

This morning, Truss ally Kwasi Kwarteng, the Business secretary, welcomed Mr Sunak’s ‘late to the party’ change on taxes.

He told Times Radio: ‘I think he’s under a lot of pressure. That’s why we see all these statements: he was the person who said the VAT cut would disproportionately benefit rich families and now he’s saying that a VAT cut on energy bills is the right thing.

He was saying that tax cuts were a fairytale, now he is proposing an unfunded tax cut.

‘There comes a time in campaigns when people are under a lot of pressure, he clearly felt under a lot of pressure in the debate and he wanted to get out on the front foot and interrupt Liz.’

But Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, an ally of Rishi Sunak, defended the former chancellor’s plan. He rejected the suggestion that Mr Sunak is ‘flip-flopping’ and said the £4.3 billion policy is sensible as it would not add to inflation.

Put to him that it is a ‘flip-flop’, Mr Shapps said: ‘If he hadn’t produced £37 billion of support, about £1,200 to the hardest-up households already – if he hadn’t done any of that and then suddenly did it then you would have a point.

‘But he has, he has been providing all this support, now he is saying ”Here’s something that won’t add to inflation that would save every person watching your programme £160 off their energy bills” – I think that’s worthwhile.’

Last night No10 insiders told the Daily Mail that Mr Sunak’s plan was something Boris Johnson tried to implement to ease the burden on consumers – but was blocked by his then chancellor.

‘Boris begged him to do it – but he wouldn’t budge’, said the source. ‘It’s astonishing that he’s now claiming it as his own policy.’

Meanwhile new polling shows that the rising cost of living and handling of the NHS could cost the Tories the most votes at the next election.

The Mail on Sunday‘s Anna Mikhailova pointed out that Rishi hardly had a long-term career in business, despite his own claims.

Nigel Farage picked up on her tweet and called Rishi ‘a fraud’:

Farage had elaborated on his GB News show the day before, Monday, July 25. He pointed out that Rishi included a clip of him in his campaign video on immigration. He doubted Sunak’s sincerity on China and ended by saying, ‘Well, I guess that leaves us with Liz Truss’:

By July 27, the bookies gave Liz Truss an 83% chance of winning the leadership contest.

That night, Dan Wootton said that ‘Fishy’ Rishi’s tax U-turn was ‘too little, too late’:

John Sergeant, who reported for the BBC for decades, said that the former Chancellor appeared ‘rattled’:

Political commentator Patrick O’Flynn said that many intelligent politicians weren’t very good at politics, Rishi being a case in point:

On Thursday, July 28, Lord Ranger, a Rishi supporter, said that if the Conservative Party members do not choose the former Chancellor as leader, they are racists.

Dan Wootton responded by pointing out that this Conservative leadership contest has been the most diverse in history:

That includes Labour, too, by the way.

Wootton said, in part:

It was still only a matter of time before Team Rishi Sunak blamed his imploding campaign on racism.

Forget the fact that Kemi Badenoch was a surprise favourite among the party membership before being booted out by MPs for being too daring and different.

Forget the fact that Liz Truss is a woman who went to a Leeds comprehensive.

Nope, Sunak’s failure is nothing to do with his big state/high tax agenda, which saw him increase our tax burden to the highest it’s been in 70 years.

Nothing to do with his globalist posturing and desire to cosy up to China by making the Communist country our market of choice, as revealed in bombshell leaked Treasury documents reported in The Times today.

Nothing to do with the fact he backstabbed Boris Johnson – the man to whom he owes his career – plotting his leadership campaign, all the while pretending to be his loyal Chancellor.

No, no, no, no it’s down to racism.

Conservative donor and Fishy Rishi supporter Lord Ranger told Indian news network Bharat Tak: “If people reject him, it will be a bad name for the party and the country because this will be perceived as racist.

“And so there is pressure on them to prove that here race does not matter.

“Calibre matters, and Rishi’s calibre is above everyone. I am optimistic that people here will be fair and will not reject anyone on the basis of race.”

Lord Ranger, I can assure you the Conservative members are not rejecting Rishi based on race.

They’re rejecting him based on policies and a lack of loyalty too.

As my colleague and friend Calvin Robinson tweeted in response: “‘Vote for me because I am brown,’ is bad enough ‘if you don’t you’re a racist’ is even worse.

This divisive, toxic rhetoric is straight from the Leftist guidebook on Critical Race Theory and should have no place in the Conservative Party or the government of this great nation.”

Former Cabinet member Michael Gove’s ex-wife Sarah Vine, who writes for the Daily Mail, said that Rishi stabbed Boris in the front:

On Friday, July 28, a Techne poll showed that Liz was gaining ground over Rishi:

That morning, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace put the boot into Rishi’s decision to resign as Chancellor:

Wallace told Sky News:

Wallace: Let’s look at that Friday afternoon – I think it was a Friday – what if the markets had crashed? What if the Home Secretary had done that and there was a terrorist attack? What would the public think, they would never forgive us for that… I don’t think people needed to walk out, the public would see that as a government not thinking about the job in hand.

The multi-year settlement [for the Department of Defence] that we got was not what the Treasury had wanted, they wanted a one-year settlement – this was back in 2019 I think – and it was vital that we got a multi-year settlement, and the PM effectively asserted his authority and made all that to happen…

Interviewer: But Mr Sunak was not in support?

Wallace: Not that I remember.

Cut the right taxes like not proceed with corporation tax rises helps growth. When Rishi was Chancellor he cut entrepreneurial relief – he cut the relief we give to entrepreneurs who’ve invested in this country, invested in businesses – that’s not a way to help create either wealth or indeed growth.

Wallace had more to say. He said that, as Secretary of State for Defence, he did not have the ‘luxury’ of resigning, a pointed barb at Rishi, who, he intimated, should have stayed on as Chancellor:

Wallace pledged his support for Liz Truss.

Meanwhile, Rishi’s team claimed someone was leaking official documents:

Rishi allegedly asked Simon Case, the head of the civil service, to get involved.

Guido reported:

What leaks might Rishi be upset about? The Treasury documents which completely undermined his pledge to “scrap or reform EU laws in 100 days” is a strong bet. Earlier this month, just after promising to review all of the remaining 2,400 EU laws on the statute book, Bloomberg revealed the Treasury had – under Rishi’s leadership – written to Liz Truss to claim that reforming EU taxes was desirable but probably not deliverable until 2026. Last time Guido checked, that wasn’t quite within 100 days. Brexit Opportunities Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg even responded by claiming it was “a surprising promise as the Treasury under his leadership was insisting that taxation was exempt from the removal of EU law.” What was it Rishi said about “fairytale promises”?

UPDATE: Now a spokesperson for Liz Truss says:

We condemn the leaking of Government documents and papers. Neither campaign condones leaks of material and will not use documents it receives. Furthermore, both campaigns will report any such leaks to the Cabinet Secretary who may take action directly, or via the Police, against the individuals involved in perpetrating such leaks or receiving and not reporting material. We understand leak investigations will be carried out without fear or favour.

Word around Whitehall is that Simon Case is livid, demanded both camps issue a statement and has called in police to investigate the China leaks.

On Saturday, July 30, things got worse for Team Rishi. He had to give away tickets to what had been a £20 per person hustings event:

Then, Tom Tugendhat, he of the military service, endorsed Liz Truss:

Oh, dear.

While all that was going on, staff at the Mail on Sunday (MoS) were preparing its copy.

Late on Saturday in one of the MoS pieces, Boris loyalist Nadine Dorries MP further reinforced the notion that Rishi is not a man of the people. She wrote about a tweet she’d sent out a few days before commenting on his expensive attire:

I wanted to highlight Rishi’s misguided sartorial style in order to alert Tory members not to be taken in by appearances in the way that happened to many of us who served with the Chancellor in Cabinet. The assassin’s gleaming smile, his gentle voice and even his diminutive stature had many of us well and truly fooled.

I wish to stress it’s not the case that I believe a rich man or woman – even if their father-in-law is one of the richest men on an entire continent – cannot be Prime Minister of this great country. But they do have to possess good judgment, understand the lives of others, have empathy, compassion and know how to fill a car with petrol and pay for it at a till.

Rishi’s father was a GP, his mother a pharmacist. He attended a public school where the annual fees are about £36,000. They were in the top two per cent income bracket of all earners in the UK. To describe his background as humble is yet another indication of poor judgment.

Rishi will never know what it is like to feel scared, broke and hopeless, without a safety net provided by wealthy parents. He has never had to lie awake at night, worrying about how to pay the bills. A bailiff will never knock on his door

Too right.

Dorries said that Boris was not best pleased when he found out that Rishi is now pledging to cut VAT on energy bills, something she said Boris begged him to do as Chancellor:

Rishi says he wants to cut VAT on energy bills. However, Boris had been pleading with him to introduce this measure for two years as the PM had been convinced that such a cut could provide immediate relief to families.

In a speech on Thursday, Boris commented with a hint of uncustomary sarcasm: ‘Turns out it was easier than we thought!’

Rishi was the classic dog in the manger as Chancellor. Whenever Boris sought him out to discuss serious issues, Rishi was always polite but unforthcoming. Never a team player.

Another MoS article revealed photos of a young Rishi Sunak at an exclusive nightclub in London’s fashionable Mayfair.

Reporter Michelle Bromley included photos, writing about the young man and his then-fiancée, now wife, the Infosys heiress Akshata Murty, who lived in California in 2008:

Despite living 5,400 miles apart, the couple regularly flew back and forth across the Atlantic.

These photographs show how they spent an evening with friends at the Whisky Mist nightclub in London.

Ms Murty is seen with a cocktail while Mr Sunak (who says he’s teetotal and ‘a total Coca-Cola addict’) generously bought all the drinks that night for the couple’s friends.

At the time, the club off Park Lane was popular with the young Prince Harry and celebrities such as Beyoncé and Leonardo DiCaprio. Many years later, Tesla tycoon Elon Musk met his second wife, actress Talulah Riley, there.

Whisky Mist was apparently named after an incident during which a tipsy Queen Victoria thought she’d spotted a stag in the fog from the window of Balmoral Castle.

Friends with Mr Sunak and his girlfriend that night recall how many of the guests were focused on Ms Murty because of her family’s fabulous wealth.

Her father founded global IT giant Infosys.

Mr Sunak was described by a female reveller as ‘the most attentive boyfriend you have ever seen’ and as ‘someone who would ask a lot of questions but not give too much away about himself’.

Not long before, he had been to Africa where he met some of Barack Obama’s relatives. He was photographed with them while holding a copy of the future US president’s book, Dreams From My Father: A Story Of Race And Inheritance.

The picture was posted on Mr Sunak’s Facebook page. Mr Obama used his book as a primer to introduce himself to the American people as he campaigned in 2008 to become the first black US president.

Fourteen years on, the young Briton captivated by that book is campaigning to become Britain’s first Prime Minister of Asian heritage – and of America’s greatest ally.

Nadine Dorries is right. Rishi Sunak will never have to worry about anything significant in his life.

The Sunday Telegraph said that Conservative MPs criticised Dorries for retweeting a photoshopped image showing Rishi as Brutus wielding a knife at Johnson’s Julius Caesar’s back. The original tweet is at the link.

The MoS also reported that some of the MPs supporting Rishi have serious doubts about his campaign:

Conservative MPs backing Rishi Sunak have privately admitted ‘It’s over’ as panic sets into his leadership campaign.

Insiders told The Mail on Sunday that some supporters were refusing to do campaigning events for the former Chancellor.

MPs are said to be getting cold feet after Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and former leadership rival Tom Tugendhat threw their support behind Liz Truss in quick succession.

However, other MPs backing Mr Sunak insisted he was doing well with Tory members, and said private polling showed Ms Truss’s supporters had been easily convinced to switch their support to him.

As this week opened, Dan Wootton’s Monday poll showed that GB News viewers thought that his tax U-turn was still too little, too late:

That polling ran while Rishi and Liz were at a hustings in Exeter, more about which tomorrow.

I hope the former Chancellor, whose mother owned a pharmacy, does not get anywhere near Downing Street, except as a visitor:

https://image.vuukle.com/155c492f-2972-4bb5-a16a-d30e45907be5-922be845-ee85-4390-a5f8-a2f2f9e7532f

Why anyone wants Rishi to be the next occupant of No. 10 escapes me. Convince me — someone, anyone — why he should be our next Prime Minister.

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