AFTER the collapse of the Soviet empire some enterprising local authorities opened sculpture parks to house the unwanted statues of Lenin, Stalin, and the like. If nothing else, they were target training for the birds.

I would like to think something similar will happen in the UK to mark the end of the Conservative era. Pride of place would go to the podiums at which Prime Ministers from David Cameron to Rishi Sunak delivered their first speeches on entering Number 10.

Each podium turned out to be in its own way cursed, the words spoken there destined to haunt the new leader. Remember Liz Truss and her “bold plan” to grow the economy? Boris Johnson’s pledge to “restore trust”? And Rishi Sunak declaring his government would have “integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level”?

That will be the same government that now stands accused of lacking all three of these qualities. It is not even 100 days since Mr Sunak became Prime Minister. That anniversary, should you wish to mark it, falls next week.

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Yet what a mess he finds himself in, with two scandals raging: one involving the party chairman, Nadhim Zahawi, and his payment of a penalty to HMRC for a “careless” error in his taxes; the other the chairman of the BBC, Richard Sharp, and his alleged role in arranging an £800,000 loan for Boris Johnson.

The Zahawi case poses a more immediate danger to the Prime Minister. Last week he told the Commons that Mr Zahawi had addressed questions about his tax affairs “in full”, only for news of the penalty to break at the weekend. The matter is now in the hands of the government’s independent ethics adviser who will advise the Prime Minister on whether the ministerial code has been broken. Mr Sunak will have the final decision.

Before PMQs yesterday, David Blunkett, a former Labour Home Secretary, described Mr Zahawi as “a dead man walking”. No-one ever said politics was kind. Given the way the Prime Minister has handled this matter, and his position in general, might the same be said of Mr Sunak?

He is already vulnerable on a number of fronts. First, his lack of a mandate from UK voters. The Conservatives can tell the story any way they like, but Mr Sunak tailgated his way to Number 10 just as Liz Truss did before him.

The one who led the way, who secured a large majority at a General Election, has never really left the building. That, for the moment, is not a pressing problem for Ms Truss, busy as she is on the lecture circuit. But it is for the Prime Minister. Mr Johnson is the bad smell that no Number Ten spray can eradicate.

Mr Sunak tried to leave it behind when he walked out on his old boss, but he took too long to do so.

Mr Johnson has been going his own merry way since, his supporters feeding friendly hacks tidbits about when, never if, he might return. Mr Johnson has not been the kind of backseat driver who has so irritated previous Prime Ministers. He has chosen instead to jump on to the bonnet of the Sunak mobile and cling on to the wipers. Not an edifying or reassuring sight.

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Just as Mr Johnson is making him look weak, so the Prime Minister is at the mercy of those ever present “events”. He heads a government that is £2.5 trillion in debt at a time when the cost of living crisis is driving public sector workers to strike. As he said , only “idiots” would expect tax cuts in such a situation. Unfortunately for him, most of those idiots are sitting behind him.

Further adding to Mr Sunak’s woes are the mistakes of his own making. Why did he defend Mr Zahawi so staunchly last week when he did not have all the facts? Had he never asked him about his dealings with the taxman, despite stories circulating for months? What had been Mr Zahawi’s answer to the stock question about any potential problems the Prime Minister should be aware of?

There is of course a good reason why Mr Sunak should wish to steer clear of any discussions about tax. It is the same reason why Labour is picking away at the subject.

The Zahawi row fulfils several roles. It reminds the public that this is a government led by seriously rich people who have no idea how most folk live. It makes the connection between tax and public services, handy in these times of industrial strife.

How many more nurses could be employed on the wages they deserve if everyone paid the tax they owed in full? And it reminds voters of previous scandals, destroying what little trust they might have left in the Conservatives.

But above all, going on about Mr Zahawi’s tax leaves the way clear to focus on Mr Sunak’s family finances. Labour is becoming more brazen in this quest by the day, with yesterday’s PMQs providing another example of their boldness.

When questions were asked previously about his family’s tax arrangements, and in particular those of his wife, Mr Sunak’s unhappiness was plain to see. Allies warned of him walking away from politics.

The Herald: After Nadhim Zahawi's tax scandal, the focus was placed on the Prime Minister's financial arrangements at PMQsAfter Nadhim Zahawi's tax scandal, the focus was placed on the Prime Minister's financial arrangements at PMQs (Image: Newsquest)

It is hard to believe that since then his family’s financial affairs have not been checked and checked again to make sure everything is as it should be. That, however, won’t stop questions being posed. The process has already started, with Downing Street asked yesterday if Mr Sunak had ever paid a penalty to HMRC.

Whether it is his inability to keep Mr Johnson under control and out of the way, or his insistence on due process being followed in Mr Zahawi’s case, the Prime Minister is left looking weak, which is just as Labour intends.

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Every mistake, including being fined for not wearing a seatbelt, will feed into the story of Mr Sunak’s weakness. He’s not an awful person, like Boris Johnson, or serially incompetent, like Liz Truss, but he is weak.

Or as Keir Starmer put it so devastatingly yesterday, isn’t the Prime Minister starting to wonder if the job is just too big for him? First they taunt you about the past, then they attack you on taxes, then they have a sly dig at your height. It’s playground warfare, but it still wounds.