“Don’t worry, be happy.” That, noted Piers Morgan during his interview with Rishi Sunak last night, was what Tony Blair’s animatronic fish used to sing when a button underneath it was pushed. Morgan wanted to know if Sunak had anything similar to the ex-prime minister’s Big Mouth Billy Bass in his Downing Street office.
“You said what’s your mantra, what’s my equivalent of the singing fish doing Bob Marley?” the Prime Minister asked. “It’s Akshata.”
Oh man. Poor woman.
Rishi Sunak used to be the most popular politician in the country. The words used to describe him tended to be “slick” and “genial”. British Vogue wanted to shag him.That all feels like several lifetimes ago. Now he is commonly described, even by his own side, as “a bit cringe”. The only thing worse might be being compared to a singing electronic seabass.
The interview reinforced the narrative that has been building around Sunak recently. That the Prime Minister is more Ed Miliband than John Major. That he cannot appear in public, on BBC Scotland, or in a car without something embarrassing happening. He cannot be told, as he was by Morgan yesterday, that he is “stinking rich”, without uneasily twitching in his seat. Whatever Sunak used to be, it is hard to shake the feeling that he is cringe now.
What is Sunakism, Morgan asked. The Prime Minister didn’t look completely sure. He babbled about pride and peace of mind. His “five pledges” came up. Sunak clung to them like a life raft; they were “the things that matter most to the country”. Really, they are the things that focus groups have told Tory pollsters that matter to the country.
There is no Sunakism then. There is only the management of these pledges – which Sunak may or may not think are good ideas – in the hope that if they appear to be met the next general election won’t be another 1997. Ever the head boy, he promised Morgan a return leg interview in December: “You can give me my report card on these five things.”
Really, all this added up to a coup for Morgan, not Sunak. “PM meets PM” screamed Talk TV’s pre-game advertising. The branding suggested a cheeky parity between the two men. And why not? At this late stage, a sitting Conservative prime minister probably doesn’t have much more clout than Piers Morgan. For Sunak, the fish are singing: “Do worry, be afraid.”