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The public believes Rishi Sunak is out of touch. That was the verdict of a recent Byline Times poll showing that just one-in-five voters believe the Prime Minister understands the concerns of people like them.
Viral clips of him struggling to pay with a bank card at a petrol station, asking a homeless man if he would like a career in the City, and admitting to not having any working class friends, have all contributed to a sense that he is perhaps not the most deeply in touch Prime Minister that Britain has ever had.
In an apparent attempt to disprove this, Sunak today took a short journey (one hour by train, or about ten minutes by helicopter) to a vast IKEA warehouse in North Kent, where Byline Times watched him take part in a so-called “PM Connect” event with a small group of workers.
With sleeves rolled up David Cameron-style, Sunak attempted to break the ice with a pre-prepared gag about Swedish meatballs, before switching incongruously to his formal response to the Bank of England’s alarming decision to once again raise interest rates.
The decision, which some economists predict will push the UK into a deeply damaging recession, was nothing to worry about, Sunak said, because “I am totally 100% on it, and it’s going to be okay.”
If that weren’t enough to reassure the assembled workers, Sunak also had some reassuring words about the state of Britain’s increasingly crumbling public sector.
When one man asked “what is going on?” with the NHS, given members of his own family had to wait 45 minutes for an ambulance and six months for a hospital appointment, Sunak reassured him that he had a “very, very good plan” to deal with the problem.
This plan, Sunak explained, involved “more doctors, more nurses, more ambulances” and “being a bit clever about how we do things”. This cleverness, he explained, involved asking people to go to their local supermarket to get scans, rather than to their GP. Whether or not that will make any meaningful difference to the warehouse worker waiting six months to get his grandmother urgent treatment, remains to be seen.
That one tricky question aside, Sunak faced little difficulty from the workers, most of whom understandably appeared more concerned with not annoying the bosses standing behind them, than with taking the politician in front of them to task.
Asked by one particularly keen worker what the “core values that inform your leadership style” are, an apparently stumped Sunak turned the question around and asked what she believed such values should be, upon which he was told that they involved being “somebody who is relatable” and “very open and honest”.
Quite whether Sunak meets that criteria is open to debate. However, when asked by one journalist to be “open and honest” himself about what he thought of Boris Johnson being found to have lied to Parliament, Sunak lost his newfound commitment to transparency and replied that he was “not focused on the past”. Other questions about the possibility of a recession and the chronic shortage of housing, were similarly batted away.
Once these questions from the small number of pre-selected media outlets were over, Sunak ended the session by praising the “incredibly eloquent” contributions of the assembled workers.
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Quite why the Prime Minister found the fact that a group of warehouse workers was more than capable of stringing a sentence together to be “incredible” is difficult to say.
However, before finding an answer to that question Britain’s Prime Minister was quickly whisked off through the warehouse doors.
Any connection struck with the warehouse workers of North Kent, was unlikely to remain for long.