Let joy be unconfined! The Spring Statement has arrived bringing with it tidings of great… ambivalence and auguring a new age of… much worse living conditions for most people! Perhaps it was too much to expect largesse from a man you could comfortably keep in your breast pocket, but the pint-sized purse-holder seemed particularly parsimonious and – oddly – the country seems to have noticed. 

It was the work of one bungled statement to turn the Chancellor from Dishy Rishi into a man kebabbed by increasing inflation and a rise in energy prices (Shishy Rishi), a man whose wife’s business connections undermined his public positions (Fishy Rishi), and a man who was better off before we had to listen to him speak (Lillian Gishy Rishi). How could a man who came up with an Eat Out To Help Out scheme that was – according to the University of Warwick – responsible for between eight to seventeen per cent of new COVID infection clusters in the autumn of 2020 have botched the Spring Statement so spectacularly? 

Sunak couldn’t have looked more out of touch if he’d licked his Coutts card and run it up and down the shop assistant’s face

After all, Sunak gave us the biggest cut in petrol duty for 25 years. At a stroke he had done something beyond the abilities of every politician of recent generations, slashing petrol prices back to where they had been the previous Thursday. Some cynics, of course, noted there wasn’t much point in cutting the duty on petrol when you were hoicking up National Insurance. What they hadn’t considered, however, was that we could just all start paying our National Insurance in petrol. Or, at least, that’s what we could tell the nice police officers we were doing when they caught us glaring at the local office of the HMRC while in possession of a large canister of gasoline. 

How is it possible that a man who could, single-handed, drive an autumnal spike in respiratory infections because he knew the British public well enough to realise they’d gladly gamble their lungs on cheap peri-peri chicken have fallen so far from grace? Although, let’s not forget Sunak was working at hedge fund TCI in 2007, when it launched the campaign that drove ABN Amro into being sold to the Royal Bank of Scotland – saddling RBS with eye-watering amounts of debt. Attentive readers will remember that RBS needed a bailout from the taxpayer of £45.5 billion in 2007. Sunak is perhaps the only Chancellor of the Exchequer to have cost the Treasury tens of billions of pounds before he ever set foot in the building. 

Perhaps he’s best described, to paraphrase another former chancellor, Denis Healey, as the rich pipsqueak. The fact this is so blindingly obvious to so many, so suddenly, isn’t just because he tried to rub the Spring Statement down the country’s throat like he was massaging a worming tablet down a Labrador. It’s because the British public, as mean-spirited and bullying as they are, have a keen nose for inauthenticity. It’s always unwise to try to behave like you think common folk behave if you’re a British politician. Just this week, Sunak told us that he drives a Volkswagen Golf – forgetting to mention the £94,000 Land Rover, the BMW, and the Lexus he also has in the garage. 

He tried to look normal by hijacking a supermarket worker’s car and then being unable to use a card machine, pawing ineffectually at the cash register in a delightful visual metaphor for his understanding of how money works. He couldn’t have looked more out of touch if he’d licked his Coutts card and run it up and down the shop assistant’s face, yelling “Five litres of foaming, nut-brown petroleum, my good man, and don’t spare the horses, which as you can clearly see are unnecessary because I own an affordable automotive vehicle of my own!” Then he tried to sound normal by suggesting that he felt like Will Smith, which is possibly true. They’re both multimillionaires whose popularity has been on the slide since Hancock failed to live up to everyone’s hopes. 

Inauthenticity is death for politicians. George Osborne glottal-stopped himself out of ever being a candidate for leader of the Conservative Party. Ed Miliband holed his 2015 campaign below the waterline by sternly informing Jeremy Paxman that “Hell, yeah, I’m tough enough.” Anyone who saw a heavily-pancaked Gordon’s Brown’s pained attempts to convey warmth and good humour through the medium of smiling will have it burned into their psyches for the rest of their days. The British public can sniff out a try-hard all too easily and they find pretension unforgivable. 

We hate inauthenticity, but we love artifice. A well-crafted, obviously insincere public persona is something we all enjoy. Whether it’s Rees-Mogg adopting the insouciant drawl of someone best suited to funnelling rainwater off the roof of a Victorian mental asylum, or Boris Johnson’s suet-dumpling, incontinent Mr Toad act, we’re more than happy to accept someone who’s every moment is a considered fakery – so long as we imagine these are well-honed personae adopted at public school to avoid personal intimacy, or having to address feelings of abandonment, rather than a misjudged attempt to appear likeable. 

Sunak’s problem, then, is not that he’s too fake, it’s that we suspect he’s not very good at it. And no matter how fake his persona is, the electricity bills arriving at everyone’s houses at the end of the month will be all too real.

Nathaniel Tapley is a comedy writer and performer on the TV shows you hate

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