IT is the tail end of a topsy-turvy year and I find myself concluding 2022 with the truly through-the-looking-glass experience of... coming out in defence of a Rishi Sunak photo op.

Sorry about that. Just picked myself up off the floor and I'm back at my keyboard.

Right. The latest prime minister was out and about promoting a £2 billion package of support to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping over the next three years. As part of this endeavour he opted to serve breakfast at the Passage homelessness shelter in London.

As a publicity stunt it, er, backfired just a little. Yes, everyone's talking about it – but can anyone tell you why Sunak was at the shelter or the finer detail of the £2 billion remedy?

What went so wrong? Well, the PM had a chat with one of the service users, Dean, who'd come in for his morning meal.

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Sunak, in a stab at off the cuff repartee with Dean, asked the chap if he works in business. "No," Dean replied, "I'm homeless." The internet went wild. The headlines were that of a field day.

Labour came out swinging. Angela Rayner, the deputy leader, described the exchange as "excruciating" while Rayner's colleague Stella Creasy mocked Sunak thus: "Watching this I am concerned that the prime minister thinks homeless means ‘doesn’t have a country pile at the moment’."

Lisa Nandy, shadow levelling up secretary, tried to land a zinger: "How much more out of touch could this prime minister be?"

Now, it's easy to criticise. Sunak is not the smoothest of politicians and his track record for photocalls is poor to barely middling.

You'll recall his appearance in Teeside earlier this year when he appeared alongside the region's mayor, Ben Houchen, wearing a pair of £500 Prada suede loafers to lecture that inflation must be restrained in order to deal with the cost-of-living crisis.

Perhaps the loafers came from a charity shop, perhaps they were a gift, but they were tactless and someone on Sunak's team should have picked this up.

Then there was the discovery – when Sunak posed for the cameras to promote a cut in fuel duty – that the then so-called millionaire minister didn't know how to use a contactless card.

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In a bizarrely ad hoc publicity stunt, the then-Chancellor borrowed a Kia Rio from an unsuspecting Sainsburys worker to pose while filling up the vehicle's tank. He was then spotted in the shop tapping his debit card off a barcode scanner.

Out of touch? Certainly. But on this latest occasion, no.

The conversation with Dean began with him asking Sunak if he was sorting the economy out. Sunak replied: "Well, that is exactly what I am trying to do."

"Best for business," Dean replies and then Sunak asks both if he works in business and if he would like some fruit.

Dean responds to say he is homeless but that he is interested in business, that he likes finance. "It’s good for the city," he says. "When finance and stuff does well, we all do well in London."

Sunak says he used to work in finance and Dean says yes, he knows, he's aware the prime minister is an ex-investment banker.

The PM asks if Dean would like to get into that line of work, to which he says he would, but he just needs to get through Christmas first.

Sunak's pre-Christmas homelessness shelter visit was always going to be awkward. He's a millionaire heading up a political party that has caused the economic environment within which the service users at Passage find themselves destitute.

Either a person has enough self-awareness and decency to realise that it's crass to visit a soup kitchen when your party's policies have made life intolerably worse for so many people, and so you feel that discomfort.

Or you genuinely haven't made the link but everyone around you has, and you're embarrassing yourself unwittingly.

Easy small talk with strangers has a knack to it that doesn't come comfortably to everyone. It must be unimaginably worse to do it while cameras are filming and others are looking on.

The Queen, a master of the art, only suffered the sustained criticism that her chat was a bit boring. Boring is a smart way to go. But Sunak hasn't gone off on some terrible tangent here, he's directly responded to a topic raised by the person he's been tasked with chatting to.

Sunak credited Dean with being switched on and smart enough that he could overcome his current situation and make a future for himself. The resulting snark from opposition politicians and the public shows a display of double prejudice.

The first, against Rishi Sunak and anything the Tories are up to generally. This prejudice is easy to justify. If you keep getting up to blundering shenanigans, as Sunak and the Tories have, then people are going to see blundering shenanigans in any of your endeavours.

The other is a prejudiced view of homeless people. The idea that it might be shockingly inappropriate to ask a homeless person what their aspirations are is a shallow narrative.

It's in the same vein as the overly high praise or surprise when it's revealed a person seeking asylum is university educated or highly skilled professional.

I visited a refugee camp in Malawi with the charity Mary's Meals last month and was telling colleagues about some of the children's hopes for the future – to be a judge, to be a doctor, to be a pilot.

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The surprise expressed at these ambitions was disproportionate. God, yes, it will be inordinately tough for these young people but ambition in straitened circumstances should never be thought of as an inappropriate or insensitive topic to raise.

It implies that people are poor souls, without prospect and in a situation they can't claw themselves out of. It fails to see people as individuals with hinterlands and positive potential for their futures, a trap Sunak, to his credit, avoided.

The response to Sunak and Dean's conversation is the danger of the outrage wagon. People climb aboard without double checking the destination. One hopes for better from elected members but the Labour backlash shows just how hard it is for politicians, desperate to land any blow, to say, actually, I'm not going to take this swing.

A teenager in a refugee camp can aspire to learn to fly a plane; a man experiencing homelessness can go on to a career in business. It's Rishi Sunak's responsibility to create an economy where the marginalised can thrive. That's what he should be held accountable for.