(The Article was first published on 5 September 2022 and is being republished as Rishi Sunak won the Conservative Party leadership race on 24 October, becoming the first non-white UK prime minister.)
It did not come as a surprise to many, least of all to him. Nevertheless, Rishi Sunak, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, came agonisingly close to becoming the first non-white prime minister of the United Kingdom.
After his rival candidate, Liz Truss, was declared the winner of the contest, a spirited Sunak thanked the party members for voting for him and urged the Conservatives to unite behind the incoming prime minister.
"It's right we now unite behind the new PM, Liz Truss, as she steers the country through difficult times," he tweeted.
The Resignation That Started It All
Born into an Indian family in Southampton, Sunak did his MBA from Stanford University after graduating from Oxford.
He has been a Member of Parliament from Richmond since 2015. He served as the Chief Secretary to the Treasury before being appointed as the Chancellor of the Exchequer in 2020 by Boris Johnson.
Sunak threw his hat into the ring after he resigned from Johnson's cabinet in the first week of July. "I am sad to be leaving Government but I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that we cannot continue like this," read Sunak's resignation letter.
In his letter, he cited an "improper and an incompetent government" as his reason for quitting. He also highlighted his differences of opinion with the prime minister over the economic management in the country.
Analysts, however, said that this might have indeed been the former chancellor's ploy to become the next British prime minister.
Rise and Fall in Popularity
Sunak is certainly not as popular as he used to be during the peak of the pandemic in the UK. His failure to resolve the cost-of-living crisis, his decision to increase taxes, and the revelation of his wife Akshata Murthy's non-domicile status that allowed her to save millions on taxes in foreign earnings have together dented his reputation of being the most-liked minister in the Boris Johnson cabinet.
During the first COVID-19-induced lockdown in the UK, Sunak rallied for jobs.
When Britain was enduring its first lockdown, a few ministers spoke about the loosening of restrictions to prevent the economy from spiralling into a recession. Sunak was at the forefront.
He kept emphasising that protecting people from the virus and from unemployment could not be treated as a zero-sum game. In a press conference on 14 April, he said:
"It's not a case of choosing between the economy and public health – common sense tells us that doing so would be self-defeating. The absolute priority must be to focus all of our resources, not just of the state, but of businesses, and of all of you at home as well, in a collective national effort to beat this virus."Rishi Sunak, 14 April 2020
But his popularity began to dip after his economic policies failed to resolve the cost-of-living crisis.
Sunak's ratings took more beatings when it was revealed in April this year that his wife, Akshata Murthy, daughter of Infosys founder Narayana Murthy, held a non-domicile status in the UK.
Her non-dom status allowed her to evade millions in tax on foreign earnings via her stake in Infosys. This did not reflect well on the chancellor, who was already under fire for failing to address the country's economic crisis.
What Next for Sunak?
Sunak had pledged not to join Truss' cabinet if she became the next British prime minister. Whether he stands by his words or not is something only time will tell, but what we can ascertain is that he will continue to remain an influential player in British politics. He did finish on top of every round of voting when the Tory MPs were casting their votes.
He has claimed numerous times in the past that he is best placed to defeat Labour Chief Keir Starmer in the 2024 general elections.
And while he has said that the British Conservatives are "one family" and "it's right we now unite behind the new prime minister," it won't be surprising if he has already begun preparing for the next election.