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Andrew Marr: PM's reaction to the Zahawi tax row makes him look weak, I would do the brutal and necessary thing
23 January 2023, 18:42 | Updated: 23 January 2023, 18:46
Andrew Marr has said Rishi Sunak is playing into Keir Starmer's characterisation of him as weak in his failure to act decisively over the Nadhim Zahawi tax row.
Speaking on Tonight with Andrew Marr, the presenter said that the PM's job is to convince the country a line has been drawn under the chaos and scandal of recent years, but the longer the uncertainty over Zahawi position goes on, the more it will benefit the opposition while making the him look nervy.
He said: "What is Rishi Sunak big political task? It’s to ensure that this year is more like 1992 than 1997.
"That, in Toryworld is the difference between being absolutely hammered by Labour in 97 and surviving, as they did against many expectations, under John Major in 92. So which will it be?
"That depends on Sunak persuading the country he’s drawn a line under the scandals and chaos of his predecessors and can run a clean, efficient Government whose members care more about the country than about themselves.
"Up to now Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak have used quite simple lines of attack on each other - which haven't quite worked. The prime minister says the Labour leader is a man without a plan, but Labour policies are emerging and we will hear more about them next month – so that criticism is growing less effective.
"Meanwhile Starmer attacks Sunak again and again for being weak. And I don’t think that’s really worked either.
Andrew Marr on how the PM should respond to the Nadhim Zahawi tax row
"Sunak might seem a bit boyish and hyperactive but he's quite hard edged and seems to know what he wants. Up to now. Because he is vulnerable whenever he seems to be frightened of his party.
"Keeping Nadhim Zahawi in place, after he’s had to make a £5 million settlement with HMRC over unpaid tax does seem a bit… nervy?
"Just last week Number Ten said the PM knew all the facts over Zahawi and had full confidence in him. Now merely asking for an investigation saying “there are questions that need answering” does look, I'm afraid, weak.
"It plays straight into Keir Starmer's hands. And it isn't just me who thinks that.
"Here is James Johnston, the former Downing Street pollster: he says the political reality of the situation is that the Zahawi issue “cuts through to the public, feels unfair, and would skewer the Tories in an election campaign.
"The longer this goes on for, the Labour leader will look stronger and the PM, weaker." So if I was Sunak I would do the brutal and necessary thing. And I would do it this very day.