What goes around, comes around. Last September it had been Liz Truss’s turn to do the annual local radio round before the Tory party conference. Like most things Truss comes into contact with, it had quickly turned into a chaotic disaster. One for the ages. It turned out no one had warned Liz that local radio presenters might actually ask her questions. Tricky ones at that. Maybe she had thought she was there to read out the traffic reports. Or the weather. Talking to people was just one of the things at which Truss was extraordinarily crap.
It’s not Rishi Sunak’s strong point either. He lives in his own bubble where other people only exist to be informed and entertained by his own brilliance. His is a gilded, entitled world where he can do no wrong. Any decision he makes is de facto right by virtue of the fact he made it. Any challenge is unwelcome and rebuffed with thin-skinned tetchiness. The idea that other people might have something of value to contribute is a category error. Without Rish! their existence is near meaningless. So fair to say that Sunak’s hour with local radio was one he will also be doing his best to forget.
BBC Radio Manchester’s Anna Jameson started by asking how the prime minister was planning on getting to this year’s party conference. Rish! needed to think about that. Eventually he said he would probably be driving as there was a train strike. Really? That would be a first. Normally he takes a plane or a helicopter for any distance over 80 miles. OK, said Jameson. But would he be taking HS2 if it existed?
God, no! The very idea. Sunak was a man of the people. HS2 was a transport system for the wokerati. The sort of people who valued high-speed trains to the north were precisely the same feeble-minded halfwits who wanted to keep the UK in both the UN refugee convention and the European convention on human rights. Russia and Belarus were taking the lead on this and the UK should follow. It was high time women and gay people around the world started standing up for themselves and stopped coming to us for help. So, no, he wouldn’t take HS2.
“Look,” said Sunak. “I’m a very busy man. I’m trying to deliver for the people of this country.” Only the people just weren’t appreciative enough. How many more times did he have to repeat his five priorities? Several, it seemed, as he ran through them yet again. Twice. In case some had not been listening. Everyone should be thrilled that inflation was down to 7% and that growth was a healthy 0%.
Here was RishGPT at his most snippy. His most detached from reality. His most narcissistic. Imagining that he knew best what listeners wanted to hear. That Jameson’s questions were just too boring, too off-message for him to bother answering. Nothing a local radio presenter had to say could possibly be more interesting, more pressing, than what was on his mind. Her voice counted for nothing. In RishWorld, Rish! automatically comes first. The rest nowhere.
Jameson saw things differently. She wasn’t going to allow the prime minister to talk all over her show for the eight minutes she had been given. This was her time. Manchester’s time. And she was determined to get some answers. Good luck with that. So, could Sunak put an end to the speculation? Right here, right now. Was he planning to scrap the Birmingham to Manchester leg of the HS2?
“Er … I couldn’t possibly speculate on the speculation,” Sunak mumbled. Sorry? Literally he couldn’t speculate on the speculation he had himself started. He didn’t even seem to realise that it was precisely his job to take these decisions. Or maybe there’s another Rishi Sunak somewhere – a doppelganger – who’s rushing around doing these kinds of things. It’s just unfortunate that every time Sunak has to appear in public, it’s the useless one that can’t really do anything who gets wheeled out.
Time and again, Jameson pressed Sunak for a definitive answer. And time and again, Rish! just burbled. The man who had insisted only a week ago that he was the only politician capable of making the difficult long-term decisions for the country had proved himself incapable of making a long-term decision. Not wanting to rock the boat before his party’s conference in Manchester this weekend. If Sunak had any integrity, any self-awareness, he would hate the person he has become. But maybe he’s too delusional to be touched by the dissonance.
“We’ve got spades in the ground on the first phase,” Rish! said hopefully. They must be very expensive spades. HS2 is projected to cost £500m a mile. Or nearly £300k a yard. He also didn’t seem to realise the spades were in the wrong place for the second phase. Sometimes he’s a lot stupider than he realises.
“Thing is, Anna,” he continued. Most journeys are made by car. He was now being wilfully dim. Of course they are. But we’re trying to get people to take alternative forms of transport. That’s the point of HS2. Not just levelling up but fulfilling our net zero commitments. The ones we aren’t watering down by watering down. Schrödinger’s climate change.
But here was the thing. What was really getting in the way of HS2 was all the potholes in the road. Presumably the spades can’t get to the construction sites. So he was going to continue to do nothing about potholes and that way he could forget about HS2. That’s what Manchester wanted. Apparently. Though it didn’t sound like it, listening to Radio Manchester. They seemed less than thrilled to have been awarded another cones hotline.
In total, across all the local stations, Sunak was asked 12 times to say whether HS2 would be scrapped. Twelve times he bravely avoided the question. He also got rinsed by almost all the other presenters on other questions. On Radio Berkshire, Rish! tried to pretend that Alok Sharma’s decision to stand down had nothing to do with the government’s new climate change agenda. Yeah, right. He also didn’t have a clue about why the new hospital in Reading still had not been built.
On Three Counties Radio, Sunak tried to pretend he had been powerless over Nadine Dorries’ lack of interest in her own constituency. The reality was that he had been too weak to confront her. Far better to let Mid Beds go unrepresented than make another enemy in Westminster. It felt like a mercy killing when the media round finally came to an end. Still, Downing Street could look on it as a learning exercise. Yet another thing that Sunak was not every good at. Their struggle ahead of the conference and a general election is to find something he does well.