What does history tell us as Sunak engulfed by sleaze and scandals?

Rishi Sunak fined by police again, while ministers past and present face difficult questions.

Bernard Ponsonby on fresh scandals around Rishi Sunak, Nadhim Zahawi and Boris Johnson Instagram

It has been another bad week for Rishi Sunak. His levelling-up agenda was greeted with derision in some quarters as it transpired quite a lot of public money was being shovelled into prosperous areas of the country. 

Then there was the police fine for being filmed in a car without the protection of a seatbelt. That’s two fines whilst he has been in government, the first being for a breach of Covid rules. 

Far more seriously, however, is the fact that he is now fire-fighting on the ‘sleaze agenda’.  

This time it is a double whammy of potential trouble over the tax affairs of the Conservative party chairman Nadhim Zahawi and whether Tory Party donor Richard Sharp compromised himself in his role as chairman of the BBC. 

Notwithstanding the optics of Sharp’s appointment, all governments tend to take a keen interest in who chairs the governors, since they really look upon this role as having a friendly ear at the highest echelons of the corporation. 

I suppose the trick is for the government to get their way with the appointment without it looking like inappropriate interference in the running of a broadcaster independent of what ministers would like them to do. 

The Sunday Times has suggested that Sharp was instrumental in connecting former premier Boris Johnson with a rich businessman who provided a guarantee for an £800,000 loan to Johnson while he was in Downing Street. 

Yesterday, the foreign secretary James Cleverly declared that “of course perception matters”. 

Forget perception, the facts are enough.  

Sharp donated to the Conservatives, he applied to become BBC chairman, he gets the post after helping to broker a relationship for the prime minister’s financial benefit. 

The political world is often dusted with scandal, not because of actual rules being broken, but because the behaviour highlighted just isn’t right.  

For a prime minister to even seek such an arrangement whilst in office is plain wrong, given his salary doesn’t exactly put him on the breadline. It is another example of Johnson’s utter disregard for the consequences of his own actions. 

His behaviour would fail the Rishi Sunak test which was articulated in such elevated tones when he entered Downing Street. He declared: “This government will have integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level.”

Accountability isn’t the first word that springs to mind when it comes to Zahawi. For the last few days, he has traversed the streets of the capital, intrepid reporters in tow in an unsuccessful attempt to hold him to account. 

Nadhim Zahawi is facing questions over his tax affairs.iStock

Instead, the Conservative party chairman has deployed that well-worn strategy that normally ends in resignation.  

As his tax affairs are put under scrutiny, there is obfuscation, then silence and then a defence which is dripped in inverse proportion to the number of questions asked. 

Zahawi paid a penalty to HMRC over unpaid tax while he was chancellor of the exchequer. What’s more, it isn’t being denied that the penalty ran to millions.  

Now, it takes some brass neck to accept the job of chancellor knowing that you are in dispute with HMRC. It is Johnsonian in its disregard for the consequences if you are ‘found out’. 

Of course, Sunak himself whilst chancellor had a protracted issue with his wife’s non-dom status.  

It was claimed this allowed her to avoid paying about £20m in taxes in the UK on income earned abroad. She then declared she would pay tax on the earnings, but only after her tax arrangements were put under scrutiny. 

The collective picture painted by these events is not a good look. Johnson looks desperate and greedy, and Zahawi and Sunak look out of touch given their vast wealth. 

Not unreasonably the voter might ask, how can the super wealthy at the heart of the UK Government really know what it is like to budget under impossible circumstances? 

Boris Johnson was helped financially by a man later appointed BBC chairman.Flickr

The short answer, of course, is that they can’t. Unless you are faced with the choices millions of families are now facing, you can’t know since you substantially inhabit your own privileged world. 

There is an eery echo in the Sunak premiership to that of John Major in the 1992-97 parliament.  

After Black Wednesday, his government lost all credibility on economic policy and then the foibles, financial and sexual of his parliamentary colleagues turned his government into a joke that was beyond parody. 

Liz Truss’s trashing the economy looks like this government’s Black Wednesday moment and the seemingly never-ending line in stories about Conservative MPs seems likely to seal the deal with the electorate who look likely to reward this administration with a period of opposition. 

With every passing day, scandal envelopes, the opprobrium of the electorate tightens the electoral noose and ministers collectively vie with one another for best ‘rabbit in the headlights’ performance in a television studio. 

History tells us this is not ending well Mr Sunak, a fresh face in a government wearing a countenance made horribly craggy by the vanities of its own super rich. 

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