Rishi Sunak was left isolated and humiliated at the dispatch box during Prime Ministers Questions (PMQs) on Wednesday, his backbenches and cabinet colleagues sitting silently glum as opposition leader Keir Starmer tore into him for cancelling a planned meeting with the Greek PM at the eleventh hour.
The reason for the cancellation of a meeting where immigration control, the Ukraine conflict, and trade were among the topics up for discussion, was the Elgin Marbles!
The Marbles are a collection of Ancient Greek sculptures, removed from Greece by Britain when we had an Empire, and we were able to pilfer such things without any fear of consequence.
In more recent times, the Greek people, not unreasonably, have asked for said marbles to be returned. For reasons beyond most folks’ comprehension, consecutive British governments have dug their heels in, refusing to acquiesce to this request. Sunak took such Umbridge at the suggestion that the recently re-elected Greek prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, would use their scheduled meeting to raise the issue in conversation that he petulantly pulled out of the tete-a-tete.
Rather than simply have a grown-up exchange of views on the marbles (I know this sounds mildly ridiculous), Rishi decided to pull the meeting altogether – missing an opportunity of discussing his biggest challenge of the moment, immigration control, with the leader of a country which the recently sacked Home Secretary Suella Braverman had praised for its work in this contentious policy area.
Worse still for Sunak was the fact that Keir Stamer did meet Mr Mitstakis, discussing all of those issues Sunak ought to have been talking about – and simply promised to consider ‘lending’ the marbles back to Greece for an exhibition should Labour win the next election.
This whole episode may not matter much to Joe and Joanne when they’re discussing how they are going to afford Johnny and Jenny’s Christmas gifts this year. However, the optics for Rishi Sunak couldn’t be any worse.
A man who claimed he was going to bring professionalism back into Number 10 following the chaos and shambles of Johnson and Truss has made himself look petty, silly, and amateurish.
He has caused an unholy diplomatic row with a country which has been a close ally for decades.
And, in contrast, Starmer, in meeting a European head of state, looks more prime ministerial than the PM.
The optics for Sunak are awful. His parliamentary colleagues know it. His Cabinet colleagues know it. And Labour, from their baiting and buoyancy at PMQs, certainly know it.
Sunak may wish to think again the next time he feels it is a good idea to try and create a ‘culture war’, which was obviously his objective when he made the daft decision to snub the Greek PM. As Starmer teased on Wednesday in the Commons – everything the PM does at the moment turns to……rubbish. Sunak appears to have the exact opposite of the Midas touch.