Rishi Sunak’s campaign had a simple slogan when he ran for prime minister of Britain earlier this year: “Ready for Rishi.” The answer was: No, sorry.
He took on Liz Truss to lead Britain’s Conservative Party after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced his resignation in July over scandals.
With Truss out, it seems that British Conservatives are indeed ready for Sunak – or at least some chance of respite from the chaos at 10 Downing Street.
Sunak won the Conservative Party leadership contest on Monday, making him the country’s third leader in less than two months and Britain’s first prime minister of South Asian descent.
The 42-year-old former Chancellor of the Exchequer is one of Britain’s richest politicians. He was born in Southampton, England, to parents of Indian descent who had emigrated from East Africa.
Educated at one of Britain’s most prestigious private schools, like his former boss Boris Johnson, he has a brilliant resume, with degrees from Oxford University and Stanford University and a stint with investment bank Goldman Sachs. Sunak is married to Indian tech heiress Akshata Murty, whose tax affairs caused political discomfort to the former finance minister during his leadership campaign over the summer.
A music video from a 2007 BBC documentary, in which Sunak suggests he has no ‘working class friends’, has been circulating online as some Britons frown on the string of upper-class conservatives.
Nevertheless, he remains popular among politicians of his own party, although he fares less well with national members of the Conservative Party, which Truss led by 57.4 percent to 42.6 percent in September.
After George Floyd was murdered by police in Minneapolis and the Black Lives Matter movement swept across much of the world in 2020, Sunak spoke about the racism he faced in public life and the struggles his family had to overcome. as immigrants to Britain. He also publicly defended his Hindu faith and swore by a revered Hindu text, the Bhagavad Gita, when he took office.
For his supporters, Sunak is a steady hand on the economy as he correctly predicted the market crisis caused by Truss’ policies as they cut taxes and the British pound plummeted. He called Truss’s proposed economic reforms “fairytale economics” before taking office, an assessment likely to bolster his image of fiscal responsibility.
One blemish on his track record, however, is his link to the ‘Partygate’ scandal that toppled Johnson’s government. Like his boss, Sunak was fined by the police during his tenure for attending parties at 10 Downing Street, as Britons were under strict government-imposed coronavirus restrictions.
Sunak’s biggest challenger initially appeared to be former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whose forced resignation marked the beginning of the current period of political chaos in Britain. Johnson flew back from a vacation in the Dominican Republic on Saturday to a mixed reception as he sought support for a comeback.
But supporters of Sunak, the bookie favorite, insisted that he could easily cross the threshold to gain the support of 100 conservative politicians needed to win the first round of the party’s internal leadership race.
“It is abundantly clear that Rishi Sunak has what it takes to face the challenges we face – he is the right person to lead our party,” former cabinet minister Sajid Javid said in his support announcement on Friday.
“He has the talent, integrity and humility needed to give us a fresh start and a steady hand,” tweeted conservative lawmaker Gavin Williamson, while others applauded Sunak’s “competence” and “economic foresight.”
Loyalists pointed out that Sunak’s candidacy received the most support from his parliamentary colleagues during the previous leadership contest against Truss this summer. And many of his economic ideas have proved prescient, those backers said.
Not everyone was so enthusiastic about the man who would become prime minister.
His critics claimed he betrayed his old boss Johnson when he stepped down as Treasury Secretary in early July. That led to the collapse of the cabinet shortly afterwards and then to Johnson’s downfall.
— Dr. Liam Fox MP (@LiamFox) October 23, 2022
Speculation about Johnson’s return to political battle exposed the intense divisions about him among politicians and much of the weary British public.
After donning his hat, Johnson withdrew from the race on Sunday.
Third in the Conservative Party’s race was Penny Mordaunt, a mid-level minister who wanted to become a household name.
Mordaunt said she was encouraged to lead by colleagues who wanted a “new start” but was seen by some conservatives as a compromise candidate for politicians in the Sunak and Johnson camps who couldn’t bring themselves to support a rival. Her numbers remained low.
A candidate must get more than 100 votes from the party’s MPs to advance to the next round. There are 357 conservative lawmakers in office. If more than one candidate crosses the threshold, Conservative MPs take “indicative” votes to try and narrow the field. If the field remains divided, they vote online with party members.
But if just one person gets that number before the nominations close, they win outright.
Under pressure, Mordaunt bowed before the 2 p.m. local time deadline Monday, Sunak the country’s new leader and put an end, at least temporarily, to the political instability that rocked Britain.
Despite the quick elections, many in British politics remain frustrated. Opposition parties, including Labor, are calling for a general election so the annoyed public can have a say in who will be Britain’s next prime minister.
“The truth is [that] passing on the job of prime minister, the job of chancellor, will not give the country the leadership and stability we desperately need, as if it were some sort of ‘pass the package’ game. The party’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rachel Reeves, told the BBC on Friday.