Rapid rise to prime minister, but some doubt Rishi Sunak can win UK election

  • Quick climb to the top
  • Tories fear he may not win the election
  • Labor will fall on his wealth

LONDON, Oct 24 (Reuters) – First elected to parliament in 2015, Rishi Sunak on Monday became Britain’s youngest prime minister in more than 200 years, tasked with leading the country through an economic crisis and growing anger in some voters.

It’s a remarkable comeback for Sunak who lost a leadership bid to Liz Truss less than two months ago when he was accused by some Conservative Party members of ousting their hero, Boris Johnson.

One of Westminster’s wealthiest politicians, he enters Downing Street faced with the need for deep cuts in public spending to stem a budget crisis, as well as to tackle a cost of living crisis , to a winter of strikes and Russia’s war in Ukraine.

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His supporters say the former finance minister is a safe pair of hands who can restore Britain’s credibility with investors who sold the country’s bonds and sterling after Truss’ mini-budget proposed tax cuts with few means to finance them.

But the former Goldman Sachs analyst and hedge fund partner also faces challenges within the ruling Conservative Party, where some lawmakers blame him for his role in ousting Johnson and fear he has failed. what it takes to win the election.

Opposition Labor will likely cast him as a member of the ultra-wealthy elite, out of touch with the pressures facing millions as Britain slides into recession, driven by soaring food prices and energy.

Some fear he could bring together a deeply divided party getting used to quickly dispensing with leaders they dislike.

‘He couldn’t beat Liz Truss last month; he didn’t become an election winner less than two months later,’ a senior Tory lawmaker said on condition of anonymity after backing Johnson in his failed bid to represent themselves.

Sunak replaces Truss, who said she would step down four days ago but defeated him on September 5 with 57% of the Tory member vote. Then the former finance minister repeatedly described his predecessor’s ideas as a “fairy tale” economy that would scare markets.

He was right, but after an accelerated leadership race, some Tories say they doubt his commitment to a Margaret Thatcher-style small-state vision to boost growth after putting Britain on a path to the highest tax burden high since the 1950s with pandemic emergency spending to save jobs and social welfare.

When declaring his candidacy, Sunak, 42, said he had a track record that showed he could “fix our economy, unite our party and deliver for our country”.

“There will be integrity, professionalism and accountability at all levels of government that I lead and I will work day in and day out to get the job done,” he said in a veiled criticism of Johnsonexpelled because of an outraged premiership.


Born in Southampton in 1980 to Hindu parents of Indian Punjabi descent, Sunak spoke several times during the last leadership campaign about helping his mother, who ran a pharmacy, with the books, payroll and accounts .

He had a privileged upbringing – he went to an elite fee-paying school and is the last prime minister to study politics, philosophy and economics at Oxford University, after David Cameron and his predecessor, Truss.

During the last leadership campaign, he backed the creation of more selective high schools after new ones were banned by the opposition Labor Party, but repeatedly said that “world-class education” should be a birthright.

He will also be the first person of color to become British Prime Minister. Ravi Kumar, 38, a Conservative Party member working at a financial firm in the city of Nottingham, central England, described the appointment as a “watershed moment”.

Britain’s Conservative MP Rishi Sunak leaves his home address in London, Britain October 22, 2022. REUTERS/Maja Smiejkowska

“I grew up in the 80s and 90s, and I couldn’t even imagine a non-white prime minister in my lifetime… So to see a British Indian leader is phenomenal,” he told Reuters.

But Sunak’s marriage to the daughter of an Indian billionaire has raised fears within the party that he is too far removed from the concerns of ordinary voters, some of whom are being forced by spiraling inflation to decide whether to spend their money on food or heating.

It didn’t help that in April Sunak’s wife was forced to confirm reports that her non-domiciled status meant she didn’t pay tax on all her international income, to which she agreed to end.

“Rishi has never had an overdraft, so he’s used to having a treasury (treasury department) account and a checking account,” said a conservative insider who had backed Johnson.

“Rishi has good public relations but an inability to be brave and be the Brexit chancellor the UK needs,” the insider said on condition of anonymity.

Sunak supporters say he is just the man needed to stabilize the ship financially after Truss’ so-called mini-budget rattled financial markets, increasing government borrowing and increasing mortgages and fears that pension funds fail.

“We need someone who can bring stability and proven economic competence in these difficult times, and Rishi Sunak is that person,” said Grant Shapps, who was appointed British Home Secretary after Truss sacked his predecessor. .

Shapps was just one of many ministers to back Sunak after Johnson stepped down late on Sunday, surprising and even angering his own supporters. Johnson has not made public who he supported.


Sunak is rapidly rising through the ranks of the Conservative Party, becoming, in 2020, one of the youngest finance ministers.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Britain, Sunak abandoned the Tories’ small-state instinct to borrow heavily and avoid the risk of an economic depression.

This made him one of the most popular politicians in the country, as he was praised for helping businesses and workers.

In a photo that captured the sense of unity behind his bailout plans, Sunak posed outside his Downing Street office, flanked by the leaders of Britain’s biggest trade union group and a leading employers’ group.

But that consensus disappeared when Britain emerged from the crisis with an additional £400 billion in debt, then fell into a cost-of-living crisis that put even more pressure on the public purse.

Polls earlier this year showed his stock had fallen with the public, who worried about the cost of living crisis and were angry he had hiked payroll taxes while his wife avoided UK levies .

Labor leader Keir Starmer is set to seize the appointment of a wealthy new PM by Tory lawmakers rather than the country as the reason Britain should face a national election before it is due in two years .

“I’m focusing on the millions of people who are struggling to pay their bills and now have additional worries about their mortgage. I know how that feels,” Starmer said Sunday.

“They could have a stable Labor government.”

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Additional reporting by Sachin Ravikumar and Alistair Smout, editing by Kate Holton and Nick Macfie

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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