He may be the Tories’ most polished politician. And he may even be a future prime minister. But there is one area where Rishi Sunak definitely falls flat: delivering jokes.
In his 64-minute budget speech on Wednesday, the chancellor attempted a few gags.
Side-splitters, they were not. In plaas daarvan, MPs were peppered with one-liners from the Christmas cracker school of humour.
There were groans all round when Sunak paid tribute to the new No 2 at the Treasury, Simon Clarke, who was promoted in last month’s reshuffle.
Making light of his own slightly shorter stature, Sunak praised Clarke – who is 6ft 7in inches tall – for his quick work in preparing today’s announcements.
“Completing the spending review in such challenging circumstances was a tall orde,” beamed the chancellor. “And thankfully we had just the man for the job!”
Sunak then sought to turn up the laughing gas with a dig at Labour.
Announcing that the tonnage tax would be more favourable for ships that choose to fly the “red ensign” flag, which features the union jack, he quipped: “I am sure the opposition will be delighted that red flags are still flying somewhere in this country. Even if they are all at sea!”
After announcing that cheaper sparkling wines and draught beer would be reduced by 3p a pint, Sunak had a final wisecrack.
“I can’t wait for the opposition to accuse me of beer barrel politics!”
The jokes didn’t make the cut for the carefully crafted social media posts released by Sunak’s team during the speech.
One showed a relaxed Sunak laughing as he held a football, on top of text announcing funding to support a bid to host the 2030 men’s football World Cup. Sunak also posted Twitter threads complete with emojis announcing all the headline measures. The links to those will be pinged round MP WhatsApp groups encouraging them all to retweet him, which will no doubt help grow his 480,000-strong Twitter following.
There was even an “explainer” presented by the man himself about the universal credit taper rate change, released as the announcement was made in the Commons chamber.