Rishi Sunak plays at global statesman in the Middle East

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL October 21, 2023
He glad handles from Tel Aviv to Cairo, but in Britain, its accidental prime minister maintains the fastidious remove of the most pukka of them all
Rishi Sunak made an appearance in this rather unflattering poster from earlier this year. Photo by Samuel Regan-Asante on Unsplash

It’s a moot point if anyone other than Britain noticed that Rishi Sunak was missing in action touring the Middle East, talking tough about terrorism and the UK’s rock solid support for Israel.

Actually, Britain didn’t notice much either. No one heard from Mr Sunak on Friday, October 20, the morning that everyone woke to news the mis-governing Conservative Party had suffered two disastrous byelection defeats. But then no one could honestly have said they expected to hear from Mr Sunak on that morning, or any other. He’s not the sort who pops up everywhere, all grins, glad-handling and gregarious fist bumps.

No, Mr Sunak maintains the fastidious remove of the most pukka of them all, a political Brahmin (I use the term only as a descriptor of upper-classism, albeit, in Mr Sunak’s case, earned privilege, for the most part.) Anyway, he’s someone who’s well used to keeping the hoi polloi at arm’s length.

That said, it quickly became apparent that one of the reasons Mr Sunak wasn’t heard from at all in Britain on October 20, was that he wasn’t in the UK.

He was out in the Middle East, playing global statesman and ploughing determinedly through every possible platitude about terrorism and civilian lives and peace in our times, while trudging through Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

John Crace, The Guardian’s inimitably sharp and funny political sketch-writer, had a blistering piece that has Mr Sunak popping up in Tel Aviv and having to introduce himself all over again to an unimpressed Bibi Netanyahu:

“Sunak: Good day, prime minister.

Benjamin Netanyahu: Who are you?

Sunak: Rishi.

Netanyahu: Rishi who?

Sunak: Rishi Sunak.

Netanyahu: Rishi Sunak who?

Sunak: Rishi Sunak, the UK prime minister.

Netanyahu: If you say so. You Brits don’t half churn through your political leaders. Anyway, what are you doing here in Israel? We’re actually quite busy at the moment. In case you didn’t know, Hamas murdered more than 1,300 Israeli civilians and there is a war in Gaza.”

Enough said.

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