Sunak – a heartbeat from 10 Downing Street

Money talks: The chancellor launched a £2bn job creation scheme. © James Ferguson FT

Has he risen too far, too fast? This week, all eyes were on the whizz-kid chancellor. After a meteoric rise, Rishi Sunak is tipped to become Britain’s first prime minister from an ethnic minority.

At 40, Rishi Sunak is in charge of £350 billion of government money earmarked for reviving the economy after the pandemic. Chancellor of the Exchequer for just five months – and an MP for just five years – he carries more responsibility than anyone else who has held the post in peacetime.

And having previously promised that the country would live within its means, he has had to tear up all his plans and start again, borrowing on an enormous scale.

At Oxford, he was known as a nerdy type, who loved Star Wars and drank Coca-Cola rather than beer. He avoided political societies: “His fellow students certainly said, slightly light-heartedly, that he wanted to become Conservative prime minister,” one of his tutors remembers. “But I don’t think anyone took that too seriously.”

The selection of a metropolitan Hindu as the Conservative candidate for a rural Yorkshire seat caused ripples – Sunak once joked that he and his wife made up the entire immigrant population of the constituency. But his enthusiasm for cricket and Yorkshire tea won him friends and, now, says a local supporter, “They love him there.”

A new opinion poll gives him an approval rating of plus 41%, compared to 2% for Boris Johnson. But, says one MP, “There are those who hate him, as he’s now unfireable. There are many who don’t like the fact another power base is emerging.”

Has he risen too far, too fast?

Smart money

Some say, no, a leader who isn’t white is exactly what Britain needs when racism is so much on people’s minds, and his rise through hard work epitomises Conservative values at their best.

Others point out that a candidate for prime minister needs to cultivate allies among his fellow MPs – and, according to one of them, Sunak “doesn’t play the parliamentary game at all”.

You Decide

  1. Who would you trust more – a rich prime minister or one from a poor background?

Activities

  1. Paint a portrait of Rishi Sunak as a character from Star Wars.

Some People Say...

“To succeed in life, you need two things: ignorance and confidence.”

Mark Twain (1835-1910), American author

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
It is generally agreed that Sunak is very skilled at choosing sides, and his support can be decisive. When he chose to campaign for Brexit, David Cameron is reported to have said, “If we’ve lost Rishi, we’ve lost the future of the party.” His decision to back Boris Johnson for the Tory leadership is regarded as a turning point, convincing backbenchers that Johnson could be seen as a serious choice.
What do we not know?
One main area of debate is how far Sunak goes his own way. Sajid Javid resigned as chancellor rather than fire his advisers and accept a team which was shared with the prime minister. Sunak, though, seems to have been happy to go along with this and take direction from Johnson’s chief special adviser, Dominic Cummings. His supporters, however, insist that his impressive response to the pandemic shows him to be more than a “chino” (chancellor in name only).

Word Watch

Earmarked
Set aside money or resources for a particular purpose.
Chancellor of the Exchequer
The chief finance minister of the United Kingdom, who prepares the nation’s annual budgets.
Political societies
The most important political society at Oxford is the Oxford Union. It is famous for its debates, and past presidents include Boris Johnson and Michael Gove.
Metropolitan
To do with a large city.
Rural
To do with the countryside.
Yorkshire
England’s largest county, famous for its independently minded people and its cricket team.
Caused ripples
Disturbed (some people).
Constituency
An area whose voters elect an MP to represent them in government.
Approval rating
The difference between the percentage of people who approve of your work and the percentage who do not. Sunak’s rating is plus 41% because 62% of people think he is doing well, against 21% who think he is doing badly.
Unfireable
Can’t be sacked.
Cultivate
Here means to gain or pursue.
Allies
Friends; supporters.

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