The Conservative Party and their unofficial media arm – otherwise known as The British Press at Large – have spent the last year lining the Chancellor Rishi Sunak up as heir apparent to Boris Johnson.
This campaign has been underscored by a number of manicured photo opps and videos which would be funny if they weren’t all released in the midst of a pandemic in which Sunak has repeatedly failed the public.
There was, for example, the one where Sunak served people food, mask-less, in a Wagamama’s, to “celebrate” the beginning of his Eat Out to Help Out scheme (an initiative now widely accepted as having essentially been a super spreader event). More recently, this Monday the party marked the anniversary of his first budget as Chancellor with the sort of coy, faux-intimate video profile that suggests the Tories are still cribbing ideas from Vogue.
“Can you tell us a bit about the day you were asked to become Chancellor?” asks a voice offscreen. “Oh gosh,” Sunak blushes back, like an ingenue actress who’s just been cast alongside Eddie Redmayne in a film where people wearing bonnets look at each other across rooms.
As such, Sunak’s media profile has, so far, not really strayed into the Tory MP stereotype of “seeming like some sort of alien” most expertly demonstrated by Matt Hancock during his various Good Morning Britain car crashes, or Michael Gove just generally. He has instead remained ensconced as the golden boy – until recently, that is, when a video of him chatting to students at a school came to wider attention and brought the whole Jenga tower crashing down.
A real embarrassment of embarrassments here – “Coca Cola addict!” – but the most pitiful part has to be the encouraging and obviously false laugh from the boy on the left at 0:36.
I have never been a teenage boy, but I imagine existing as one comes with many cringe moments – you call your teacher “mum”, you fall on your arse during P.E. and, from that moment on, your name for the rest of school becomes “Arse” – so imagine how cringe a situation must be for even a teenage boy to attempt to mitigate it by giving you a sympathy laugh?
What’s most interesting about this video, though, is that it’s Sunak’s media mask slipping. Here, he is so mortifying that a teenager feels obliged to give him an out, which further proves a couple of fairly obvious points: a) being fundamentally embarrassing is a pre-requisite for being a Tory MP, and b) he’s basically just like the rest of them, trying to relate to the public over nonsense, and failing even at that.