Express & Star

Toby Neal: A Chancellor who is popular is never a good Chancellor

Here are some headline-grabbing announcements from Boris Johnson that you may have missed this week.


A Union Jack is to be planted on Mars in June to celebrate the Queen's platinum jubilee.

Wolverhampton is to become the centre of British shipbuilding as part of the Government's levelling up agenda.

Asylum seekers to Britain are to be flown to Rwanda for a better life.

And in a major infrastructure project, an undersea tunnel will be built between Hull and Stavanger, Norway.

Okay, only one of the above is actually true, and if you haven't been following the news you might struggle to guess which one, which is a canny piece of misdirection in accordance with the political principle that when you are in hot water you should throw out eye-catching slices of cake.

Talking about cake (sorry Boris), one thing we have learned this week is what the Prime Minister wrote on his questionnaire.

It was: "It wasn't just me officer – my neighbour was at it as well."

My pet theory that Rishi Sunak of 11 Downing Street was behind the tip-offs about partying in 10 Downing Street has gone out of the window. However much he may or may not want Boris Johnson's job, he would hardly dob himself in, would he?

Boris Johnson has already been condemned by majority public opinion – although in all seriousness we should appreciate that he appears to be very popular in the Ukraine at the moment – but we all know he won't resign, because he never does, and if he is to be removed it will either have to be by his own MPs, and there's no real sign of that, or by voters, and the next election is some way off.

It is the revelation that the Chancellor is himself a lockdown-breaker deserving of a fixed penalty notice that is the big surprise of the affair.

Rishi Sunak was until recently being hailed as a freespending hero of the pandemic. But there's an axiom, and if there isn't there should be, that a Chancellor who is popular is never a good Chancellor.

Economic chickens are coming home to roost, Sunak's political stock has nosedived, and he must be fed up that his wife, who nobody had previously heard of, has been dragged in to the political arena.

In the movie The Godfather they call those who are not gangsters "civilians."

The concept has also been embraced by the police. When somebody is gunned down in the street you might hear something along the lines of “Police have said there is no danger to the wider public,” which is code for saying it's a gangland killing or a spat among drug dealers.

It's presumably meant to reassure people, but to me if bullets are flying about in the street the public are by definition in danger, and if a member of the public happened to get in the way of the gunman or tried to intervene they too would be gunned down without a second thought.

Politically, Sunak's wife is a "civilian," a wealthy foreign national who happens to be married to a most senior British politician, a successful woman who in the 21st century should not be viewed as a mere adjunct to her husband.

There's a curious inconsistency. There has been One Rule For Them, Another Rule For Us fury in the partygate scandal. But with Rishi Sunak's wife exactly the opposite is expected – that, because she is the wealthy wife of the Chancellor, it should be one rule for her, and another rule for other non doms.

Her arrangements are legal, so if they are unethical those who make the laws – MPs – should be committing themselves to changing the law to ban non dom status.

This was indeed Labour's policy under Ed Miliband, but Yvette Cooper was evasive about whether she wanted non dom status banned when interviewed the other day. She muttered something about there being a review.

Perhaps she was worried about a 2015 interview coming to light in which Labour's shadow Chancellor said: "If you abolish the whole status, then probably it ends up costing Britain money because there will be some people who then leave the country."

The speaker was Ed Balls – her husband.

By the way, if you think a good reason a Union Jack won't be planted on Mars is because the Union Jack can only be flown from a ship, the Admiralty disagrees with you on the point.