Rishi Sunak’s bad press could be more conspiracy than coincidence

Seeing the drip-drip of stories suggesting the Chancellor was the key blockage in doing more to tackle cost of living, or portraying him as out of touch given his private wealth, has caused some Treasury figures to point the finger of blame towards their neighbours.

“It’s all coming from No 10,” one ally of Mr Sunak told The Telegraph. “Rishi’s the only credible show in town.

“Ever since he sat down from the Spring Statement, it’s been one thing after the other. I don’t think it’s in anyone’s interest other than the Prime Minister’s.”

The source added of the tensions over spending: “The Prime Minister loves to be loved. He really doesn’t have any principles at all. It is just about trying to maintain his popularity.”

The argument seems to be that if the Chancellor is politically weakened, the Prime Minister is more secure should another wobble hit after the May local elections and as partygate fines drop.

In February, when speculation swirled about whether Mr Johnson would be fined over partygate allegations, it unexpectedly emerged that Mr Sunak too had been sent a questionnaire by the Metropolitan Police and was also facing a penalty.

Others on the Tory benches have similar suspicions. Asked if it was “probable” that No 10 was behind anti-Sunak briefings, a senior Tory MP said: “Very. No 10 have been gunning for him for a while and undermining him with colleagues.”

Another Conservative MP, a former minister, agreed Mr Johnson’s team would not be shedding tears over the change in political fortunes for the Chancellor.

The source said Mr Sunak had “put himself out there and then didn’t follow through”, referring to the Chancellor not launching a leadership bid at the height of the partygate saga earlier this year. The source added: “Always fatal.”

But some Government figures see the hand of Labour. At the very least, members of yhr opposition have proven themselves all too happy to maximise the political damage.

On Wednesday, the day the National Insurance hike kicked in, Labour advisers handed political reporters a fake letter mocked up as being from Mr Sunak – a dig at the “brand Rishi” machine.

“I’m proud that under my watch, this Government has made a total of 15 Tory tax rises,” one line read. To provide the press with a photograph for the story, they deployed scores of young aides to pose outside the Treasury wearing Rishi Sunak masks.

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