Spare us the Shakespeare Nadhim Zahawi, your resignation letter only shows how out of touch the Tories are - Jayne Dowle

Was there ever a more extraordinary resignation letter than that of Conservative Nadhim Zahawi, who becomes the 64th MP to announce they’re stepping down at the General Election?

If only he – and other current and former senior Tories – had been so thoughtful and introspective when they were locking down the country during Covid, tanking the economy and generally carrying on like a bunch of out-of-touch, high-handed autocrats.

Describing himself as the ‘MP for Shakespeare’ – his constituency is Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of the Bard – Zahawi quotes liberally from Shakespeare’s works, juxtaposing quotations such as “Go to your bosom, knock there, and ask your heart what it doth know” and “parting is such sweet sorrow” with an unnerving faux-humble insight into his grooming routine, which is worth quoting in full:

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“Every morning as I shave my head in the mirror, I have to pinch myself. How is it that a boy from Baghdad who came to these shores, fleeing persecution and unable to speak a word of English, was able to do as much as I have?”

Nadhim Zahawi has announced he will not stand at the next general election. PIC: Victoria Jones/PA WireNadhim Zahawi has announced he will not stand at the next general election. PIC: Victoria Jones/PA Wire
Nadhim Zahawi has announced he will not stand at the next general election. PIC: Victoria Jones/PA Wire

He might not be blessed with the gift of understatement, but the shortest-lived Chancellor of the Exchequer in modern times certainly has a tin ear.

As controversy rages over Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda deportation plan, did it never actually cross Zahawi’s mind that reminding those immigrants far less fortunate than himself that he has prospered to the very highest level in the UK might be somewhat arrogant?

Born in Baghdad in 1967, a teenage Zahawi could have been called up to fight in the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, but had already fled to the UK with his parents. A co-founder of polling company YouGov and a keen equestrian, he once claimed parliamentary expenses for the electricity bill at his stables. This is the kind of success story that the PM himself echoes, then has the temerity to argue that he’s “living proof” that the UK isn’t racist.

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And it’s insincere. Does anybody actually ever pinch themselves?

In January 2023, Zahawi admitted that an error in his tax affairs was accepted by HMRC as having been “careless and not deliberate”. Reports suggested that a 30 per cent penalty was slapped on Zahawi’s outstanding taxes, with the total bill amounting to £4.8m.

As a result, the Prime Minister sacked Zahawi as Conservative Party chairman, for failing to disclose that he was under investigation by HMRC at the time of his appointment.

Previous to this, in November 2020, in the middle of the pandemic, Zahawi had been appointed vaccines minister and oversaw the rollout of the coronavirus pandemic for almost 12 months. Whilst his tenure was effective, your view of his role will obviously depend on your level of cynicism towards the whole exercise, especially in light of what we know about what went on in Downing Street during this time.

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A short stint sipping from the poisoned chalice of education – Zahawi was Secretary of State for Education from September 2021 to July 2022 and no-one can remember anything he said or did of significance – and then the infamous Treasury gig and ignominy as party chairman.

He’s hardly covered himself in glory for the last few years, has he, but covers them all off with a brisk “my mistakes have been mine”? Evoking the words of Shakespeare in such a self-serving way?

Presumably he thought he would conjure up the image of an ordinary man, just like them. An ordinary man obliged to pay a tax bill totalling millions, an ordinary man whose father went on to build a successful contracting, steel manufacturing and property empire.

In 544 words he manages to showcase the sheer hypocrisy and total lack of empathy exhibited by the whole shower of feather-bedded senior Tories who have presided over economic collapse at home, and the UK’s perilous position in terms of security abroad, in one fell swoop. For that at least, I suppose we have to give him some credit, although it won’t be the kind he was expecting.

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I suppose you could say that at least the man has, eventually. fallen on his sword – that’s from the Bible, not Shakespeare by the way – but that’s missing the point really. He’s still only 56, but says he’s moving aside for someone “energetic”. What next, we can only wonder?

Shakespeare’s words still haunt us and shape our sentences 500 years after his death, even when we don’t recognise them as such. They should be democratic, enjoyed and relished by school-children, but too often they are alienating.

With this letter, all Zahawi has done is to pile on the sense of ‘them and us’ that has characterised the Tories in recent years. What he should have done is pull down his Collected Works and look up Brutus, in Julius Caesar: “But hollow men, like horses hot at hand, Make gallant show and promise of their mettle.”

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