Rishi Sunak may not be behind this scandal – but he can’t afford to not put it to bed | Beth Rigby

Rishi Sunak began 2023 hounded by the contamination of the Johnson and Truss premierships, and kicks off 2024 weighed down by what happened on David Cameron’s watch, as the hundreds of Post Office managers wrongly criminalised and convicted comes back to haunt his new year. 

Travelling to Accrington in the marginal seat of Hynburn on Monday to give his first big stump speech of the year, the prime minister wanted to use this moment to implore voters to stick with him rather than “going back to square one with Starmer”.

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But instead of being alive to his election pitch, activists and local business leaders in the audience seemed most animated when Mr Sunak was asked about the Horizon scandal.

The ITV dramatisation of the plight of Alan Bates, a sub-postmaster being wrongfully accused of theft and fraud, has ignited national outrage.

It seems astonishing that it has taken a TV drama to create the cut-through needed to turn a scandal going on for years into an issue that demands attention and solution now.

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‘I don’t know how they slept at night’

Firmly at the top of the PM’s in-tray, the pressure is now on for Mr Sunak to meet that moment and act quickly to exonerate and compensate hundreds of victims.

When asked at his speech about the scandal, the PM said as chancellor he approved the compensation schemes and told his audience “people should know we are on it and want to make this right”.

The government was looking at how it could speed the process up, he added.

Later, business minister Kevin Hollinrake told the House of Commons the government has devised options to overturn convictions at pace and speed up compensation for the remaining 750 postmasters.

He also announced plans for a retired High Court judge, Sir Gary Hickinbottom, to bring independent oversight of compensation payments.

Gearing up the government machine to grasp the nettle reflects what’s at stake, not just for the victims still awaiting justice but for a government going into an election year.

The danger for the prime minister is this becomes another contagion issue, as he looks to clean up the mess not properly dealt with in previous administrations.

He does have some cover here because at the time the prosecutions began, the Conservatives were in collation government with the Lib Dems, and it was their leader Sir Ed Davey who was the post office minister at the time.

So questions for Sir Ed now to answer too.

Read more:
The ex-Post Office boss facing calls to lose her CBE

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‘The Post Office was lying to me’

As for Labour, the outrage over this scandal gives the Tories’ main rivals an obvious new stick to beat Mr Sunak with when it comes to the Conservatives’ record in government.

Sir Keir Starmer will surely drop the Horizon debacle squarely into his “things they got wrong” box as he tries to sell to the country his message that, after nearly 14 years of Tory rule, it’s time for change.

With that in mind, the prime minister has to act quickly to put this scandal to bed once and for all. And for once, he has the whole House of Commons behind him to do it.


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