Rishi Sunak: A Profile

Rishi Sunak: The Race To 10 Downing Street

by Sagar Kar Debroy - Thursday, July 14, 2022 01:17 PM IST
Rishi Sunak: The Race To 10 Downing StreetRishi Sunak.
  • Relatively new in politics, Rishi Sunak is at present in the lead having secured the backing of 52 MPs.

10 Downing Street is all set to bid a goodbye to Boris Johnson. The Tory leadership race to replace him is underway.

Eight candidates have secured the backing of 20 MPs and made it through to the first ballot: Kemi Badenoch, Suella Braverman, Jeremy Hunt, Penny Mordaunt, Rishi Sunak, Liz Truss, Tom Tugendhat and Nadhim Zahawi.

The first round of voting is scheduled to take place today — those who don't get the support of 30 MPs will be eliminated.

The first round will be followed by more rounds of voting that will take place over the next few days, and which will whittle the number of candidates down to two.

The remaining two will face off to become Britain's next prime minister. The winner will be chosen by the Conservative Party members, not the MPs.

The crucial thing to watch out for is this — when a candidate is eliminated in successive rounds, which candidate do they back?

More than 175 Tory MPs have now endorsed a candidate. 163 Tory MPs have not yet decided who they are backing in the leadership contest. These numbers will change but this is where things stand at the time of this article's publication.

As of now, Rishi Sunak is leading the race. He has secured the backing of 52 MPs. His rivals are vying to become the "Stop Rishi” candidate.

So, who is Rishi Sunak?

Margaret Thatcher's life story of being a grocer’s daughter and “living above the shop” to living in the 10 Downing Street is well known. Sunak's campaign video suggests that despite being rich, he comes from a humble background.

His mother was a pharmacist and his father was a GP.

He is relatively new in politics. He was first elected in 2015 to his seat in Richmond, North Yorkshire, succeeding Lord Hague of Richmond. His colleagues in Westminster jokingly refer to him as the "Maharaja of Yorkshire".

He has had three ministerial jobs: local government minister from 2018, chief secretary to the Treasury from 2019 and then Chancellor of the Exchequer February 2020, stepping in weeks before the Covid-19 pandemic struck the UK.

Sunak was the chancellor of exchequer in Johnson's government, until he resigned from the cabinet. A move his critics in the party perceive as a betrayal.

At the campaign launch, he attempted to heal the rift. "Boris has a good heart. Is he flawed? Yes, and so are the rest of us. Boris Johnson is one of the most remarkable people I’ve met. But it got to a point where it just wasn’t working."

During the formal announcement of his leadership bid, Sunak spoke about 'restoring trust' in the office. Trust that has been undermined due to the partygate scandal. Some question Sunak's ability to restore trust as he himself attended Johnson's party. Sunak's backers claim that Sunak ended up attending the party by mistake, he had a meeting scheduled, to which he turned up early.

His wife's non-domicile status has also been scrutinised. As has been his fortune. His wife is the daughter of N R Narayana Murthy, an Indian businessman. Reports suggest that Sunak is the wealthiest man in the British Parliament. This has led many to ask if he will be able to win the next general election for the Tory party.

The danger is that in the general elections, with Sunak as the Tory candidate, the Tories will lose most of the gains they made by winning the 'red wall' seats during Johnson's tenure.

The 'red wall' seats are Labour strongholds. Johnson succeeded in attracting many Labour voters to the Conservative Party. He was able to do so, thanks in part to his personal impish charisma and in part due to his promise of 'levelling up'.

Many fear that for the Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, it would be easier to beat Sunak in the 'red well' seats, compared to beating Johnson in those seats.

Johnson's strategy relied on sacrificing dogmas of Thatcherism by turning the state into a more of an activist state, by levelling up the poorer part of England, which are mostly situated in the northern parts of the country.

This promise helped him to win over many traditional labour voters and thus succeed in winning the general elections by a landslide.

If Sunak becomes the prime minister, his fortune, many fear, will be used against him, by the Labour. Questions such as "isn't he too rich to rule? Too out of touch with the struggles of an ordinary Briton?" will be raised.

To make things more complicated, Sunak isn't promising tax cuts like his rivals who are contending with him for the top post. "Fairytale economics," he calls it.

This has created a situation where the rightwing of the Tory party is backing other candidates. Critics of Sunak, such as Jacob Rees Mogg, have called him the “socialist chancellor” who set the tax burden on a trajectory to hit a 70-year high, and spending a 50-year high.

Sunak assesses that inflation is a bigger challenge. Tax cuts at this juncture, will only increase the inflationary pressure.

“Our number one economic priority is tackling inflation and not making it worse,” he said.

“Inflation is the enemy that makes everybody poorer. And if we don’t act to tackle inflation now, it’s going to cost families more in the long run, especially on their mortgage rates. So that’s what I’ll be focused on dealing with. But we will cut taxes, as I said, and we will do it responsibly. That’s my economic approach. I would describe it as common-sense Thatcherism," he adds.

On defence spending, his rivals have pledged a 2.5 per cent, or even 3 per cent increase. He has not given a number and only stated that he will respond to threats.

Asked in an interview if the whole family will be moving into Downing Street, he answered "I think that’s a bit of jumping ahead!"

If Penny Mordaunt makes it to the final stage to fight against Sunak, the latter will have a problem. The card carrying members of the Conservative Party are more activist in nature. A YouGov poll suggests that Mordaunt has 27 per cent support whilst Sunak and the foreign secretary Liz Truss both have 13 per cent.

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