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  1. The Staggers
24 May 2023

Sunak is too busy firefighting in his own party to govern

Boris Johnson and Suella Braverman are headaches that just will not go away.

By Freddie Hayward

Boris Johnson has taken spray-paint to the tombstone of his reputation. The former prime minister has been referred to the police for allegedly receiving visits from friends to Chequers during lockdown. The Cabinet Office reported Johnson after he gave over his diaries for the public inquiry into Covid, meaning he accidentally handed himself in. The Privileges Committee, which is expected to decide next month whether Johnson misled parliament, has been informed.

Rishi Sunak wants to talk about many things; partygate isn’t one of them. The problem for No 10 at the start of the year was whether Johnson could muster a leadership challenge. Reminders that Johnson was riddled with scandal helped keep MPs from being led astray. Now that Sunak is more secure, the problem is simply shutting him up.

But don’t feel too sorry for the PM. Since securing the Windsor framework with the EU he’s failed to bank a big win. The latest news on his five priorities is that inflation is down, as this morning’s figures show (24 May). But that does not mean prices are falling, as Will Dunn writes about here. They are simply increasing more slowly. Given wages aren’t keeping pace with prices, living is still becoming less affordable. And affordability is what people care about. Even if Sunak does achieve his five priorities, it won’t matter if people don’t feel the difference.

And then there is Suella Braverman. Today the Prime Minister finally decided his Home Secretary did not break the ministerial code by enquiring whether her officials could organise a private speed awareness course. Sunak would have watched with apprehension as MP after MP rose in the Commons yesterday to defend Braverman. His decision will placate the right of the party in preparation for the release of the immigration figures tomorrow. But this is unlikely to be the Braverman’s last controversy. Much like Johnson, she seems to attract scandal.

On it goes. Sunak’s cold stare when the BBC’s Chris Mason asked about Braverman’s driving ability and not the G7 summit over the weekend was a five-second summary of his premiership so far. “Won’t everyone just stop speaking?” one exasperated Sunak supporter put it to me on Monday. Not for the moment, no.

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[See also: Labour’s future will be conservative]

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