Rishi Sunak dubbed ‘pound shop Farage’ during hour-long LBC mauling

Rishi Sunak has endured a brutal hour-long radio phone in which he was accused of “lying through his teeth” and dubbed a “pound-shop Nigel Farage” over his record on LGBT rights.

The prime minister faced a grilling from callers furious at the Conservatives’ 14-year record on the state of the NHS and housing - as well as the party’s decision to accept millions from controversial donor Frank Hester.

In a sign of the electoral challenge facing Mr Sunak, he was given a markedly frostier reception than Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, who faced LBC listeners 24 hours earlier.

Rishi Sunak was accused of ‘lying through his teeth’ in the phone-in (LBC)
Rishi Sunak was accused of ‘lying through his teeth’ in the phone-in (LBC)

In one of the most brutal moments of the show, a gay man accused Mr Sunak of being “obsessed with divisive culture wars” and called him a “pound-shop Nigel Farage”.

The man, who has lived with HIV for more than 16 years, said the PM has “behaved disgracefully” toward the trans community and during the visit of murdered teenager Brianna Ghey’s mother to parliament.

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“So is it fair to say that you are anti-LGBT rights… and that you are obsessed with divisive culture wars?” Mr Sunak was asked.

In what became a common refrain for the prime minister, he told the caller he was “sorry to hear that you feel that way” adding: “I care very much about making sure that people, whatever their backgrounds, are respected and treated with compassion and sensitivity.”

He was then confronted by a caller named Ellen, who said that “as a young person in this country, everything about my future feels more uncertain”.

Ellen said housing is unaffordable, tuition fees have soared and public services including the NHS are crumbling.

Mr Sunak failed to address the points directly, but said if re-elected he would make it easier for young people to buy their own homes.

He also said the Conservatives have improved the quality of rental accommodation and put new safeguards in place for renters.

In another cutting moment for Mr Sunak, Ellen said: “Frankly, I think you’re lying through your teeth. You have had a decade and a half to improve housing, rental conditions and any of the issues I talked about and young people just don’t believe your promises anymore.”

Mr Sunak again told the caller he was “sorry you feel like that”.

In the Labour leader’s LBC phone-in, he was challenged by callers over Labour’s plans to introduce VAT on private school fees, his past support for Jeremy Corbyn and potential tax hikes under a Labour government.

But he faced a notably less hostile audience, while Mr Sunak struggled for respite.

The brightest spot of the PM’s interview was when he was asked about inflation returning to the Bank of England’s 2 per cent target, a rare boost for the PM during the general election.

Mr Sunak acknowledged it has been a tough few years, but said the easing of price increases would be “very good news” for households. “

But the headaches kept piling up for Mr Sunak, who was confronted by Figen Murray, the mother of Manchester Arena bombing victim Martyn Hett, over why he has not passed a law in her son’s honour yet.

Figen Murray, mother of Manchester Arena bombing victim Martyn Hett, arriving in Downing Street (Stefan Rousseau/PA) (PA Wire)
Figen Murray, mother of Manchester Arena bombing victim Martyn Hett, arriving in Downing Street (Stefan Rousseau/PA) (PA Wire)

The prime minister was asked why it is referred to as a “priority” in the Conservative Party manifesto despite him promising Ms Murray 18 months ago that he would pass it.

She said: “You have put in your manifesto that Martyn’s law is a priority. I don’t know what you mean by that because you promised me 18 months ago, in a phone call on what would have been Martyn’s 35th birthday, that you’re going to really hurry up with Martyn’s law and you’re very committed to it. And there has been nothing since then.”

The PM said he is still planning to pass the law before summer recess if he is re-elected, despite only having a week of time scheduled between the reopening of parliament after the election and MPs going on their holidays.

He was also attacked by a caller over the party’s decision to keep millions of pounds donated by Frank Hester, who said Labour veteran Diane Abbott “makes you want to hate all black women” and “should be shot”.

He has given £15m to the Conservatives, and Mr Sunak said the businessman has apologised and should be allowed to move on from the comments he made in 2019.

Mr Sunak even compared Mr Hester to Ms Abbott, who was suspended from the Labour Party last April for a letter the MP wrote suggesting Jewish people are not subjected to the same racism as some other minorities.

The PM told LBC: “Diane Abbott has been readmitted into the Labour Party, and she herself had made some comments in the past that weren’t appropriate, but she apologised for those and was readmitted back into the Labour Party after having the whip withdrawn.”

The interview ended on a positive, if embarrassing, note for the prime minister when he was asked to wish his predecessor Boris Johnson a happy birthday.

Mr Johnson has so far not returned from his summer holidays to hit the campaign trail for the Conservatives, and is not expected to do more than sign off on some letters and record videos backing Tory candidates.

But Mr Sunak said: ““I hope he is having a good day”.

“It’s been great having him supporting the Conservative Party, he has been endorsing lots of candidates with videos and letters and that is really great and makes a big difference,” Mr Sunak added.