STEPHEN GLOVER: Recent weeks have shown PM is far shrewder than Rishi

STEPHEN GLOVER: Recent weeks have shown Boris Johnson is a far shrewder politician than Chancellor Rishi Sunak… How quickly everything has changed!

Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak. Who could have guessed two months ago that the political fortunes of the one would improve so fast, and those of the other slump so precipitously?

In early February, when most commentators including myself assumed Vladimir Putin wouldn’t be stupid enough to invade Ukraine, Boris was peeping nervously out of his dog-house.

Senior civil servant Sue Gray had placed her report about ‘Partygate’ in her safe as the Metropolitan Police began their laborious investigations into what looked like an orgy of illegal celebrations at No 10. Few doubted that the Prime Minister faced some kind of rap.

Meanwhile, the Chancellor was wreathed in his customary smiles, the gilded heir-apparent waiting for Boris’s inevitable fall. He had seen off the latter’s qualms about increasing National Insurance. Indeed, he persuaded the PM to co-author a newspaper article defending it.

Rishi’s latest error of judgment is to order a Whitehall inquiry into the identity of the person who leaked details of his wife’s non-dom status. What is the point, if the facts are agreed to be true, and the revelations in the public interest?

Rishi’s latest error of judgment is to order a Whitehall inquiry into the identity of the person who leaked details of his wife’s non-dom status. What is the point, if the facts are agreed to be true, and the revelations in the public interest?

How quickly everything has changed! Rishi, who once could do no wrong, is fighting to hang on to his job after it was revealed that his wife had used her non-domicile status not to pay tax here on her considerable non-UK earnings. Since then the Chancellor has dug a deep hole for himself and jumped into it.

And Boris? The showman is welcomed to Kyiv as a hero, and the saviour of Ukraine. A leading adviser in the office of President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Saturday: ‘The UK is the leader in defence support for Ukraine . . . in the anti-war coalition . . . in sanctions against the Russian aggressor.’

The list of those who will be appalled by such sentiments is a long one. Several million Boris-haters, for a start. ‘Sleepy’ Joe Biden won’t be thrilled to be rated below the Prime Minister. President Emmanuel Macron, fighting for survival, will be spitting tacks. And Mr Sunak, I suspect, won’t be bouncing with joy.

Boris deserves his accolades, having been imaginative and decisive in his support for President Zelensky. Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, who masterminded much of the military aid, may deserve even bigger plaudits, but when things go well it’s usually the person at the top who receives the most praise.

What does the turnaround in their political fortunes tell us about Boris and Rishi? First, that the former is a lucky politician. The latest manifestation of his habitual good fortune was Putin invading Ukraine when he did.

Boris deserves his accolades, having been imaginative and decisive in his support for President Zelensky. They are pictured above in Kyiv

Boris deserves his accolades, having been imaginative and decisive in his support for President Zelensky. They are pictured above in Kyiv

Admittedly, he isn’t out of the woods yet. But I suspect that he will be, unless Sue Gray and the Met can establish that he swigged from a champagne bottle while in the company of dancing girls. Boris being Boris, he might even get away with that.

It’s not just luck, though. The PM has annoyed his critics and encouraged his supporters by demonstrating that he is more than a buffoon with a casual relationship with the truth. He has behaved like a statesman over Ukraine. On Saturday, by visiting Kyiv, he seized his political reward.

The erstwhile golden boy Rishi, by contrast, has shown that, although a clever man, he isn’t — at least, not yet — a clever politician. He has made a series of gratuitous errors since his wife’s tax affairs were revealed last Wednesday.

Let me say a couple of things in his defence. It shouldn’t be thought discreditable for a politician to be rich. Before becoming an MP as recently as 2015 (he is not very experienced) he made a small fortune as an investment banker. So what? We should welcome ministers gaining experience of life.

Nor should he be blamed for having married a very rich wife. Some of his critics appear to assume that Akshata Murty is a kind of chattel, who should have been instructed to organise her tax affairs in a way that suited her husband. That can’t be right.

There was no misjudgment in his becoming rich or marrying an independent-minded, wealthy wife. But there was an absence of good judgment in his retaining a Green Card entitling him to work in America for the first 19 months of his Chancellorship. This put him, at least theoretically, in debt to another country.

Senior civil servant Sue Gray had placed her report about ‘Partygate’ in her safe as the Metropolitan Police began their laborious investigations into what looked like an orgy of illegal celebrations at No 10. Few doubted that the Prime Minister faced some kind of rap

Senior civil servant Sue Gray had placed her report about ‘Partygate’ in her safe as the Metropolitan Police began their laborious investigations into what looked like an orgy of illegal celebrations at No 10. Few doubted that the Prime Minister faced some kind of rap

More serious still has been his chopping and changing in response to recent revelations. His first defence was that Ms Murty wished to retain her Indian citizenship, and was therefore obliged to claim non-dom status and pay tax on her non-UK earnings in India.

In fact, being taxed as a non-domicile is a choice, and separate from the issue of citizenship. Akshata Murty could have kept her Indian citizenship without becoming a non-dom. She has now agreed to pay tax in this country on her non-UK earnings while remaining a non-dom. She could have done so before.

The Chancellor’s contention that his wife was being ‘smeared’ was also wrong-headed. A ‘smear’ carries the imputation of untruthfulness, whereas the facts as adduced were wholly accurate. There is a case to answer.

Rishi’s latest error of judgment is to order a Whitehall inquiry into the identity of the person who leaked details of his wife’s non-dom status. What is the point, if the facts are agreed to be true, and the revelations in the public interest?

Of course, allowance should be made for Mr Sunak’s natural distress at seeing his wife so widely criticised. But he is surely wrong to resent the matter being discussed. He is Chancellor of the Exchequer!

Suggestions that he has considered leaving politics because of the row are also to his discredit, though yesterday friends denied that he intends to quit. Serious politicians don’t leave the field of battle at the first smell of cordite. Consider the savage punishment beatings meted out to Boris.

Nor should we forget that this same Chancellor also showed an absence of judgment, despite a windfall from higher tax revenues, in pushing through a £12 billion National Insurance increase while households are facing a cost-of-living crisis.

The oddest thing about this controversial rise — opposed by several members of the Cabinet, including the PM for a time — is that when he confirmed it in last month’s Spring Statement, he handed back £9 billion by way of a cut in fuel tax duty and a shift in National Insurance thresholds.

And yet he got almost no acknowledgement for that. It was barely noticed. Why didn’t he simply rescind the £12 billion NI hike, and bask in the acclaim for being sensitive to the needs of hard-pressed people? Was he so determined to force it through because Boris didn’t want it?

Stubbornness combined with a lack of judgment makes for a potentially lethal combination. I certainly wouldn’t write off Rishi yet. But the question arises as to whether many in the Tory Party have embraced him as the next PM without studying the small print.

And possibly — though I remain a Boris sceptic — some have too readily dismissed Mr Johnson as an accident-prone lightweight. He was formidable in Kyiv on Saturday. I was proud that he is our Prime Minister.

Boris also turns out to be better at politics than Rishi, who to judge by recent days has much to learn. I hope, unless damaging new revelations emerge, that he is given a second chance. But, from now on, the Chancellor won’t be treated as a blameless, golden politician.