The chilling soulless cruelty of Rishi Sunak is the stuff of nightmares | Stewart Lee


On Tuesday morning I woke in Liverpool with a start, my heart hammering after a night of the most wretched thoughts. The last thing I had seen before I lurched into a fitful sleep had been a foul thing – that Rishi Sunak and Piers Morgan summit – and the day had begun in the Welsh Marches, where I encountered a haunting vision of doom. But wait, old friend. I am getting ahead of myself. Pass me those statins and that Nespresso ® and I’ll begin at the beginning.

Somehow, he said he had been “taken by surprise”, Sunak had accepted a £1,000 bet off Piers Morgan. We need greater self-control from the man who has the full might of the depleted British armed forces at his command, currently six crates of old Lee-Enfields, four 25p boxes of Fun Snaps ® and a camouflaged milk float! God help us if there’s a war! Oh! Hang on! There is.

Notions of plausible denial do a lot of heavy lifting for Sunak. Did Sunak intend to make a joke about trans people at prime minister’s questions on Wednesday, only seconds after Keir Starmer had acknowledged the mother of murdered trans teenager Brianna Ghey, whose father has since demanded an apology? Or did he consider Ghey’s memory mere collateral damage as he chased the culture war votes he fears he may be losing to Liz Truss’s shit-stoking Popular Conservatives? Sunak is either a moron or a bastard.

Never mind. Sunak staked £1,000 on finally sending a flight of the frightened to the police state of Rwanda, which, despite his attempt to legislate around the nature of factual reality in parliament, remains a country where a dozen migrants were shot dead protesting over food rationing. We know from their lockdown parties that Conservatives love Abba. A £1,000 bet. The gods may throw the dice. Their minds as cold as ice.

Perhaps the worst thing about Sunak’s bet is how offensively small the sum is. Sunak’s family wealth is valued at about £530m and is likely to grow ever larger as more British public sector contracts find their way to Infosys, the company his wife part-owns.

Last week, it emerged that the former £300,000 Tory donor Dominic Johnson, ridiculously rewarded by becoming the minister of state for regulatory reform, had declared he was “keen to see a bigger Infosys presence in the UK and would be happy to do what he could to facilitate that… at a ministerial level”. There are small-town pound-shop-front-window ram-raids with more dignity than the dying days of Sunak’s rapacious, asset-stripping administration.

But the sum of £1,000, which Sunak bet, is only 0.000188679245% of the £530m that represents his joint personal wealth. The average Brit’s total personal wealth was, in 2020, £125,000; 0.000188679245% of £125,000 is £0.235849056603. So in real terms, Sunak bet just over 20p on getting flights off to Rwanda. A multimillionaire took a 20p bet on the lives of the world’s flotsam, just for fun, on TV, like a spaghetti western bad guy coldly shooting a fleeing peon dead for his own amusement, and tossing a single coin on to the brain-sodden sand beside the still twitching corpse of our international standing.

The only way Sunak’s wager would carry any weight is if he bet an amount that meant to him what £1,000 would mean to the average Brit, as a relative percentage of his total wealth. Sunak should, logically, have bet £4.2m on the realisation of the Rwanda scheme. Anything less than that is a meaningless insult to, for example, everyone who died in the second world war, fighting to make sure that their children’s children could one day deport people to Rwanda, even if the highest court in the land had declared it unsafe.

But it wasn’t just the chilling soulless cruelty of Sunak alone that filled my Monday night with fear. On Monday morning, I found myself in the stunning 16th-century St Giles’ church in Wrexham, looking for some stained glass made at the Edward Burne-Jones workshop, but it was the haunting remnants of a medieval doom painting above the nave that made the most lasting impression. Doom paintings were 12th and 13th-century depictions of the Last Judgment, mainly stripped from British churches by Henry VIII, the Robert Jenrick of the Reformation, but ghostly shadows of some survive. And the roof boss face of a devil hangs high in Wrexham, laughing at the eternally tormented.

The most distressing doom painting I have ever seen is Buonamico Buffalmacco’s c1336 fresco The Triumph of Death in the Camposanto in Pisa, Italy. At its centre, a dead-eyed devil crunches naked bodies into its mouth, and we see them writhing and dissolving in its stomach below, as all around the hideous figures of humans in torment suffer. Because I woke on Monday to doom paintings and went to sleep on Monday to Sunak, I rose on Tuesday with the prime minister’s cruel smirking face superimposed on that of Buffalmacco’s ravenous demon, suffering citizens stuffed in his maw, washed down with sewage, still raw.

Jung said dreams are the “emissary of the unconscious, whose task it is to reveal the secrets that are hidden from the conscious mind”. My subconscious clearly lacks any subtlety and has arguably overplayed its hand. But you don’t need a Jungian to know which way the wind blows. For the sake of the nation’s soul, Sunak must go.

  • Stewart Lee’s Basic Lee is on tour in February at Leicester De Montfort Hall (18), Scunthorpe Baths Hall (22), Coventry Belgrade theatre (24-25) and Wycombe Swan (26); he performs Pea Green Boat with 80s noise band Jackdaw With Crowbar at Coventry Belgrade theatre on 25 February at 2pm in aid of the Lamp education charity

  • Do you have an opinion on the issues raised in this article? If you would like to submit a letter of up to 250 words to be considered for publication, email it to us at observer.letters@observer.co.uk

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