Sally Charlwood has met Rishi Sunak twice while he’s been MP for her home town of Richmond in North Yorkshire.
The first time, the shop and IT worker turned around while at the local Georgian Theater Royal and he was sat right there in the box next to her. The second, she was having coffee in Mocha on the market square when he popped in.
What did she think of him?
“I smelled beautiful both times,” the 56-year-old said on Wednesday. “That’s a man who can afford expensive cologne. And he oozes ambition. He’s an oozer.”
Whether motivated by ambition or – his own preferred adjective – lotalty, Mr Sunak’s decision to quit as chancellor on Tuesday night amid the Chris Pincher scandal now looks set to have effectively ended the premiership of Boris Johnson. And in his constituency of Richmond – a sprawling rural patch of true blue Yorkshire; majority 27,000 – their man’s actions appear to have been widely welcomed.
To ask people here on Wednesday afternoon – almost all of them Conservative voters – what they thought of the embattled prime minister was to repeatedly elicit the same response: time to go.
“We get a lot of overseas visitors here,” said Ms Charlwood, working in the town’s King Street Kitchen and Gifts store. “And I just feel like I should be wearing a T-shirt saying ‘sorry’. I find it astonishing that one man can do so much damage to the reputation of a country. He has not a scintilla of honour. He is this country’s Donald Trump. The sooner he’s gone, the better.”
Stephen Brownbridge sat having a pint outside the Turf Hotel was even blunter.
“He’s a prat,” said the 62-year-old painter and decorator. “Tell me, how can he be running the country when he seems to spend half his life covering his own backside from yet another mistake or scandal?”
Not that the long-time Conservative voter was much convinced by any of Mr Johnson’s potential replacements. “Bring back Maggie,” he said ruefully. “The last decent leader this country had.”
On a sunny day, Richmond – a castle-and-market town – is thronged with visitors browsing its galleries, cafes and independent shops. The wider constituency – which also includes the town of Northallerton – is one of England’s most prosperous, ranked 450th out of 533 on the index of multiple deprivation. It has returned Tory MPs here since 1910. Before Sunak, the two previous members were heavyweights William Hague and Leon Brittan, both of whom served in the highest offices of state.
Which is to say that when places like this begin to turn against the PM, the game is surely up.
“There can’t be a person left in the country who actually believes he tells the truth,” said Sally Dyde, a retail manager having coffee outside the aforementioned Mocha. “It just seems to be a constant stream of scandals.”
Partygate, Patterson and now Pincher had destroyed her and husband Adrian’s faith in the PM after they voted Tory in 2019.
Would the party get their backing again while he was at the helm? “Not a chance,” came the reply from Sally, although there was a disclaimer: they wouldn’t be voting Labor either.
“I just think I [Sir Keir Starmer] has been leader for [two] years now and they’re not coming up with policies at all,” said Adrian, a 64-year-old charity worker. “I remember Tony Blair in the years before 1997 – there was a real clear picture of what Labor stood for and what they would do.”
Which begged the question: who might they like to see as prime minister? Well, why not Rishi (that’s Rishi because, here, the former chancellor is always referred to by his first name of him only)?
“Furlough saved our jobs and our home,” said Sally. “It was an excellent policy and I won’t forget that. I have kept a roof over our head. I think he’s tried to deal with [Mr Johnson] the best way he can. Give him the benefit of the doubt but there’s only so far you can do that. I think that shows integrity, yes.”
Others suggested it may, in fact, show that aforementioned ambition. But, well, they also asked, what was wrong with that?
“Has he jumped now because he’s seen the writing is on the wall and has his eye on being a leader?” pondered Neil Gardner, a radiographer celebrating his 40th birthday outside the King’s Head Hotel. “Maybe that’s true – we don’t know – but I think [if he was prime minister] he’d do a good job.”
Around his table – wife Kimberley, as well as Sarah and Richard Scrafton; all 2019 Tory voters – there was a general agreement. Once again, Sunak’s furlough policy was raised as a policy that had made a difference to people’s lives.
“Johnson has been a soap character,” said Richard, a 40-year-old chef. “Affairs, parties, lies. Great entertainment but not a leader. Rishi would be a return to normality.”