Hello, I’m Sylvie de Beauvoire. I’m a journalist for UK Newspaper TopGuard. I am a French citizen, with a UK work permit, and live in London. Imagine my surprise one morning, when I received a call from the Press Office in Number 10 Downing Street, inviting me to a meeting with new Prime Minister Rish Soontech.
‘To what do I owe this pleasure?’, I asked.
‘Rish said he had seen, heard and briefly met you at a recent press conference, admires your work and wants to renew the acquaintance on a personal level’, said my caller. ‘Could you come in this afternoon around 2pm?’
‘Of course’, I replied, ‘will it be just me?’
’Yes it will’, he said, ‘Rish wants to open up about one or two things’.
I was gob-smacked, but excited too. What on earth was this about? I was soon to find out.
It was now 11am. I rang off, and called my UK editor to tell him where I was going. He laughed, told me he thought it was a hoax, but told me to be wary. I hastily jotted down some questions in my notebook. As I had been working from home that day, I changed my dress into something more appropriate, changed my shoes, gave my hair a quick brush and pinned it back into a bob at the back, and called a taxi.
I was dropped off at the Downing Street gates just before 2pm, and I told the guard I had an appointment with the Prime Minister. He phoned ahead, then opened the gates for me, and I walked up to the much-photographed front door, which opened immediately. An aide was waiting for me, and ushered me upstairs into a side room with a couple of settees, a coffee table, and some books and pictures around the walls.
‘Please take a seat’, he said, ‘make yourself comfortable, and I’ll bring you some tea. The Prime Minister will be with you shortly’.
I settled down, got out my notebook and phone, switched it to silent, and put them on the table. Soon the tea arrived, a silver teapot, two cups and saucers, and some milk in a silver jug, all on a silver tray, and then the Prime Minister. I stood up, we shook hands, and sat down facing each other.
‘Most kind of you to invite me here, I’m most grateful’ I said. ‘But may I ask why, and why me in particular?’
He didn’t answer straight away, but started pouring the tea. ‘Do you take milk’, he asked? I said that I did.
‘Well, to answer your question’, he said, once he had settled into his seat, ‘I am hoping that you might be able to help me to re-orientate myself a bit, and to re-establish my reputation as an honest and fair-minded politician who tries to honour his promises. When I was first given this job, I said that, as a much-needed step away from my immediate predecessors, I would prioritise my government having ‘professionalism, integrity and accountability’.
I recognise that in my first six months as leader that has not always happened. And I have been accused, probably reasonably, of being ’out of touch with real people’. I want a fresh start. I am hoping that you might kick start that process for me with some honest feedback. I know it will be very difficult, for me personally, for my family, for my Government, and for my Party. Many will doubt that I can do it. But having watched the dedication to public service of so many people in this country, from the King down, I am inspired by that and want to go and do likewise.
What do you think?’
Well, to say I was gob-smacked, would be an understatement. It was not what I had expected, even though as a seasoned reporter I was used to the unexpected. I had a million questions. But I sensed this was not the moment for them. But it was a moment of emotion for the PM, and I wanted him to hold on to that and perhaps build on it.
‘Prime Minister, I am moved by your intent, and will do my best, which includes trying always to be honest with you. I must first and foremost do my job as a journalist. If that helps your relaunch and helps the country too, I am very willing to participate. May I record our interview?’
‘Of course, and please call me Rish.’
I switched my phone to record, and what follows is a transcript of that interview.
RS’s personal story
SB: Rish, may I start with a question about your own privileged personal situation and story. You have told us that you grew up in a very caring and industrious family and were sent to an expensive and select private school, where you thrived and became head boy. You then went to Oxford University where you lamented the fact that you had no working class friends, which was hardly surprising. After attending Stanford University, you then became a successful Goldman Sachs banker in the USA, where you had a luxurious lifestyle, and met your wife, who brought a huge fortune with her when you married. This I’m sure is all very much to your credit, and people will admire your ability and determination for that success.
You then decided to enter UK politics, I’m not sure why, and were handed a plum Tory-held constituency in one of the loveliest locations in England, where you bought a mansion. Within seven years as an MP you were Prime Minister. That is a quite remarkable journey. I’m sure it is well-merited. But it is also perceived by many as an imposition on ordinary citizens who might justifiably say ‘he is not one of us, he had everything laid on a plate for him, he hasn’t come up the hard way, he doesn’t know what it is like to scrimp and scrape a living or to have to use a food bank, how can he really represent our interests and legislate for us?’
That is a huge problem for you, and for your Party which put you in that position, and it has not been helped by reports that you have recently spent £9,000 on an electricity source to heat your swimming pool, and by frequent aeroplane flits across the country for meetings here and there.
RS: I completely agree with all you say, which is all correct and reasonable, and I completely understand the perception of many UK citizens that you describe. I regret the recent mistakes I have made, and I will publicly acknowledge them. Yes, I am privileged, pampered and fortunate. I can’t change that, but some of my success is down to myself and my efforts, and I do now want to make a contribution to the well-being of this country and its citizens, via the political process. I believe I do have some ability which will enable me to do that to some extent.
On a personal level, I will open my swimming pool to local children to use, I will invite some refugees to stay at some of my houses while their claims are processed, and I will stop flying around the country for meetings that I can attend by train or via Zoom.
SB: That would all make an excellent start Rish, and was not what I expected, which was excuses and deflection, and instead you have provided recognition and acceptance. You have surprised me.
Can I follow that up then with a question about your frequently repeated refrain ‘We’re delivering on the people’s priorities’. Frankly, that sounds pretty hollow and hypocritical to many people. Tories are not much above 20% in recent polls and voting. People are suffering from high inflation, high food prices, high energy costs, reduced capacity and quality of public services including transport, constant health crises and shortages, wage increases well below inflation for years, sewage in the rivers, and pot holes in the roads. You’re not delivering the people’s priorities are you?
RS: All true. It’s a ridiculous claim. I shouldn’t be saying it. I will stop from now on.
SB: Goodness, another surprise. That will be a welcome change Rish.
House of Commons
SB: Now, Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons. Many people watch this and are appalled by your behaviour. You never answer a question, you always deflect on to something else to pat yourself on the back about, you constantly make false claims about how well your Government is doing, and you constantly make sneers, slurs and accusations against the Opposition and its members. And you do all that in a triumphalist, arrogant manner which is frankly very disrespectful and unpleasant.
RS: I know. Pressure gets to me, I don’t believe most of what I say, I don’t really enjoy that aspect of the job, but my MPs expect me to put up a strong showing. I know it’s wrong, and I am really going to try and change that type of behaviour in future.
SB: Thank you. That would be a great relief.
Ed: End of Part One. Be sure to read Part Two out shortly.