Pictures: Kanok Sulaiman/Getty, Paul Ellois/Getty
Artillery Row Sketch


Rishi Sunak has industriously succeeded in alienating everyone

Can you hear that? That noise? High-pitched. Sort of a whining sound. Is it coming from the TV? The radiator? Oh hang on, I know what it is: there’s a Tory outside!

Everywhere we looked on Thursday, there were Conservatives complaining about how unfair life is. Maybe it’s the time of year. Maybe it’s just the natural order of the universe: the heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of his hands, and the Tories bang on about how hard done by they are.

There isn’t room to list all the many grievances they all have against each other, and if you don’t already know, there’s no way you’ll catch up. It’s like joining Game of Thrones in season eight. It’s safest if you just take my word for it that Rishi Snow has convinced himself that the White Walkers will stop trying to cross the Wall if he can just get a dragon to fly ten of them to Rwanda, but the Iron Court has ruled that this might be dangerous. So Suella Stark has hatched a plan to get the Knights of the Vale to declare that Rwanda is safe. But Robert Jenrick has thrown this into chaos by resigning because Rishi wouldn’t marry his sister or put him in the Cabinet or something. 

Do you care? Does anyone? Anyone who isn’t actually a Conservative MP? Rwanda has become an obsession for the Tories, to the point where the African state is beginning to hint that maybe the UK needs to give it some space. Somehow Britain now has a refugee policy so bonkers that even the Rwandans are worried it might be a bit harsh. And this is a country that recently shot 12 refugees dead. 

And yet it’s not enough. Even as dawn broke, Suella Braverman was on the BBC, complaining. Her targets were Rishi Sunak, refugees, lawyers and polite society. You sensed she probably had one or two thoughts about the BBC, too, after Nick Robinson had finished with her. There’s only so much Braverman that anyone can take, and when the former Home Secretary told him no one was discussing replacing Sunak, he snapped: “That’s nonsense, and you know it’s nonsense.” He added that Braverman had herself attended meetings on the subject, something she notably didn’t deny. 

It got worse. Robinson suggested she was “a headline-grabber who does it by spreading poison”. She didn’t entirely dispute that suggestion, either. “Sometimes honesty is uncomfortable,” she replied. “I’m not going to shy away from telling people how it is.”

This was only the beginning of the day’s complaints. A couple of hours later at the Covid Inquiry, Boris Johnson, his face puce, was moaning about the ABSOLUTELY ABSURD way people had got upset about a few parties — which BY THE WAY hadn’t ACTUALLY happened and had also been within the rules and which, BY THE WAY, he hadn’t been told about and ALSO hadn’t made any difference to anything and YOU HAVE TO REMEMBER how HARD everyone had been working.

We did get one moment of contrition, after one of the lawyers read out words Johnson had written at a point when he had been wobbling towards another lockdown, in the face of resistance from the right-wing press. “FUCK YOU Daily Mail,” he’d said, “this is all about stopping deaths.”

Johnson, now a Daily Mail columnist, had the decency to look awkward. “I’m sorry to have said this about the Daily Mail,” he said, before adding, wonderfully: “I don’t think this is intended to be any criticism of that great organ.” This may be as close to a sincere apology as Johnson will ever get. 

But we had to channel-hop, because the Whiner-in-Chief was giving a press conference about, well, channel-hopping. Sunak has faced a lot of criticism lately for his thin-skinned responses. Talking about refugees, he decided to lean into it. “My patience with this has worn thin,” he said, of the pesky courts and their interfering laws. “I have spent weeks if not months” working on this, he complained. And what thanks does he get? Bloody Jenrick resigning.

Parliament was going to vote that “unequivocally, Rwanda is a safe country.” And let that be an end to the matter. In fact, he claimed, there was no point in asking him about any of this. “The question is for everyone else,” he said, urging journalists repeatedly to go and ask Keir Starmer how Labour will vote on his law, something they didn’t need to do as they already know Labour oppose it. 

The idea of this is to create a “wedge” issue that the Conservatives can use against Labour, but the main dividing lines on politics are inside the Conservative Party, between MPs who think this is mad, MPs who think it’s not mad enough, and those like Sunak who believe it’s just right. How bad is Sunak at politics? He’s found an issue that splits his own party three ways while uniting the opposition, and he’s decided to double-down on it. 

In yet another part of the forest, Oliver Dowden was also complaining. Russian agents, he said, had spent years trying to make British politicians look weak, divided and incompetent. Honestly, how can anyone tell?

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover