That Inaction Man jibe had really hurt. Rishi Sunak had come back from that prime minister’s questions in a right strop. After all he had done for the country, the sacrifices he had made, how dare the country be so ungrateful. Worse still, take the piss out of him. He was on the go non-stop. Only that morning he had done 15 miles on his Peloton. No one had the heart to tell him he hadn’t actually been anywhere while on the bike.
Since then he had been even more determined. He would be the leader who got things done. The politician who wasn’t afraid to take the difficult long-term decisions. Take net zero. There had definitely been no short-term electoral gain in coming up with a plan that all the rightwing media could get behind. Only he had had the vision to realise that you could meet your climate change targets by junking your climate change targets. Nor had anyone else been bold enough to put an end to green policies that had never even existed in the first place. That had been a work of genius.
But Rish! was hellbent on going further. Much further. He would go where no prime minister had gone before. His would be a government of real change. For far too long he had been held back by successive Tory governments. Even though he had been part of them and said nothing at the time. But that was then. This was his time. From now on, he wasn’t going to be so reticent. Every third-rate, idiotic idea he’d had while awake at five in the morning would be briefed to friendly hacks as potential government policy. That way it would look as if he was actually doing something.
Next in the line of fire was HS2. “I’ve always thought it was a complete waste of time,” Sunak had said during one cabinet meeting. “Me too,” Grant Shapps had agreed. “I mean we’ve already canned the Leeds line, so let’s go the whole hog and cancel the leg from Birmingham to Manchester. I mean, where is Manchester anyway?”
“That’s the kind of thinking we need for the country,” Rish! had declared. Bold decisions for a bold government. It was time to get real. Who really cared about getting to Manchester 40 minutes quicker? Was it really worth the £80bn cost? After all, he never used the train anyway. If he wanted to go to Manchester he always took the helicopter. Far easier. He couldn’t think why everyone else didn’t do that as well. Besides, a high-speed line starting and finishing somewhere completely different to where was planned would be far more exciting. Who even wanted to go to Euston anyway? The new HS2 would be ideal for people in Birmingham coming to visit their relatives in Wormwood Scrubs.
There hadn’t been universal agreement with this from Sunak’s cabinet colleagues. “Er, excuse me,” Alex Chalk, the justice secretary, had whispered. “Do you think it’s a good look for the Tories to be unable even to build one high-speed line? Other countries knock these kinds of infrastructure projects up in their sleep. And won’t it look as if we’ve rather abandoned our promise to level up the country? But don’t mind me, as I’m far too wet to actually make a fuss about this. You know me. Anything not to rock the boat.”
“Just one thing here,” Michael Gove had interrupted. “Do you think it’s a good idea to make it clear we don’t give a shit about Manchester in the week before we go to Manchester for the party conference? But what shall we say if asked?”
“I don’t speculate on speculation that I started and Grant has expanded on,” RishGPT said firmly. “So here’s what we’ll do. We’ll take yet another bold decision in the long-term interests of the country. We won’t actually halt or build the second leg of HS2. What we will do is take the easy way out and delay it for the foreseeable future. That way the costs can spiral still further and some later government can take the decision on whether it’s worth it or not. Not, probably. In the meantime, everyone can congratulate me on doing nothing.”
Sunak was getting a taste for making the hard decisions. It was time to look at abolishing inheritance tax. If necessary, he wasn’t going to shy away from the tough choice to do away with a tax that affected only the wealthiest 4% of the country. It’s what the whole of the UK had been demanding and only he dared think the unthinkable. Hell, why not? Inheritance tax threatened to cost his own family something like £300m. Unless he could get the money conveniently offshore. Still it would also go down well with newspaper owners keen to protect their own fortunes. Not that that was why he was doing it. This was for the little people.
So what was the plan? Rish! smiled coyly. Again, it wouldn’t be right to speculate on the speculation he had started. And besides, the real tax cut would come from bringing down inflation. Not that this was in any way accurate. Lowering inflation wouldn’t give people more money: it would just mean prices went up more slowly. But what was the point of talking to the media, if not to lie to the country on a regular basis? That and to show he was a man of infinite energy and ideas. If of limited worth and intelligence.
Onwards and downwards. To the triple lock. Obviously he wouldn’t be doing anything to do away with it any time soon. That would be electoral suicide. Not that he ever let short-term decisions like that cloud his thinking. He was a politician cut from a sense of timelessness. A leader for the ages. Someone who would dare think of getting rid of the triple lock. That took immense courage. Especially to blink at the last moment.
Sunak had yet more dreams and visions. Transforming the education system to one where everyone was as brilliant at maths as he was. All without the necessary maths teachers. Or the curriculum. The wonder of imaginary numbers. But Rish! was on a roll. So many ideas. So few principles. Clutter the airwaves with white noise. Fantasy culture wars. The mask of inactivity. Anything to escape his own existential implosion.
Depraved New World by John Crace (Guardian Faber, £16.99). To support the Guardian and Observer, pre-order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply.