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Sunak has created a cabinet in his own image – one of weakness and invisibility


Just who is running the country? Your guess is as good as any. In theory, it’s meant to be Rishi Sunak. Only he has taken the homeopathic approach to being prime minister. Less is more. He talks a good game about the UK being a global power. How China should go away and shut up. How the good times are just round the corner.

Except it’s been a never-ending curve for the past 12 years. No one in their right mind thinks anything is going to improve any time soon. Most of us are hunkering down, expecting the worst. Rish! is the incredible shrinking leader. Only effective when he is doing nothing. Little more than the memory of a prime minister.

On Monday afternoon, the Commons was meant to be debating the levelling up bill. Only that was called off, when Sunak decided to pull it. Theresa Villiers had become the de facto leader of the country. Just for one day. Anyone who had seen her vacant stare into the void when she had been chanting “Who do we want? Andrea Leadsom. When do we want her? Some time in September” during the 2016 Tory leadership campaign, should be terrified.

Villiers had decided that the last thing the country needed was more houses. Despite there being an acute housing shortage. Or, to be strictly accurate, St Theresa, the patron saint of nimbyism, didn’t think there should be any more homes built anywhere near her or her friends. Or in places that she might want to visit one day.

Astonishingly, she is not a lone voice. More than 50 other Tory MPs also agreed that if new homes were going to be built, the construction should take place well out of their eyesight.

At which point, Rish! the Brave chose to run for the hills. Rather than stick to his principles and build the houses that needed to be built with the backing of Labour votes, he decided to drop it. Just in case he looked weak. Go figure. Just how weak does he think he looks caving in to a bunch of his more swivel-eyed backbenchers. Now he had come to think about it, maybe levelling up wasn’t such a great idea after all.

Sunak was also struggling with onshore wind. Back in the summer, Rish! had been dead against it. One of the few points of principle in his leadership campaign had been his commitment to not building wind turbines. As far as he was concerned, the only way that wind energy should be developed on land would be if every member of a community was totally in favour of it. And that included getting the permission of people who had died at some point within the last 20 years.

All of which was a wee bit mad. Not least because onshore wind is one of the cheapest and greenest forms of energy and almost all the country is in favour of it. So now we have the weird situation in which Simon Clarke, one of the last believers in Trussonomics – that bad – has become a champion of environmentalists by making a stand for onshore wind turbines.

So faced with some actual opposition, Rish! has now decided that he quite likes the wind thingies. At least that’s what he seems to have instructed Grant Shapps – a minister who has never seen a turbine he didn’t want to destroy, as he’s terrified his private plane might fly into one – to say.

All morning Grant had been saying Sunak hadn’t changed his mind. It was just that everyone had completely misunderstood what the prime minister had said all along. Clarke hadn’t been a one man vigilante squad. He had been a government cheerleader. No wonder some politicians struggle for credibility.

And Sunak has created a cabinet in his own image. One of weakness and invisibility. Starting with Suella Braverman. Immigration is supposed to be the home secretary’s number one priority. At least that’s what she says if you ever happen to find her. She’s harder to track down than a red squirrel.

Over the past six weeks there have been countless statements and urgent questions on the processing of asylum seekers who had arrived on small boats and Suella has made a point of giving or answering none of them. She has sworn an omertà. Any speaking engagements are left to Robert Jenrick, her junior Home Office minister.

Monday afternoon was no exception as the government was called upon to explain why one asylum seeker had died of diphtheria and countless others had been infected by the disease. First though, Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, wanted to know why Braverman had bunked off yet again. Was it something she had said or done? Was Suella phobic about immigration? Could Labour help her out with some cash for therapy?

Jenrick ignored her. What went on between Braverman and the homeopath would have to remain confidential. Instead, he tried to hard sell the diphtheria outbreak as a national triumph. At least there were no cases at the Manston processing centre. Mainly because the Home…



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