Rishi Sunak: Ultra-Rich Former Banker Charged To Steer UK Economy Through Crisis

A vindicated Rishi Sunak finds himself taking over residence of 10 Downing Street from former P Liz Truss.M

South Asians
5 min read
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A few weeks ago, only a few were surprised when Rishi Sunak lost the first Conservative party leadership race.

Most of the party’s MPs, choosing between Sunak and former PM Liz Truss, blamed Sunak for the downfall of Boris Johnson, triggered by the former’s resignation as chancellor of the exchequer. 

The Conservatives preferred Liz Truss’ optimism within economic policies compared to Sunak’s clear assessment of the fiscal problem. While Truss proposed tax cuts, Sunak argued that economic circumstances are ever-worsening and that for the short term, the UK should forget about tax cuts. 

Now, a vindicated Sunak finds himself taking over the reins from Truss, after he ended up as the only candidate who secured enough nominations to become leader of the Tory party and hence become the country's prime minister.

The Tories knew that during a situation, you needed someone who was somewhat driven by the need for unity after multiple divisive leadership races and managed to project some form of unity. 


Sunak’s rival in the race, Boris Johnson, was briefly gunning for the top job but announced that he didn’t believe that it would be right for him to return.

Meanwhile, fellow Tory Penny Mordaunt failed to furnish enough nominations to contest the leadership election, paving Sunak's way to 10 Downing Street.

Early Beginnings and Family

Rishi Sunak, a traditional Conservative, was born to parents of Indian origin who emigrated to the UK from east Africa. Both of Rishi's grandfathers were born in Punjab and later moved to east Africa. His parents, Yashvir Sunak and Usha Sunak, were born in Kenya and Tanganyika, respectively.

His father was a general practitioner (GP) in the National Health Service (NHS) while his mother ran a pharmacy. Rishi was born in 1980 in Southampton, a county in southern England, and is the eldest among his siblings – Sanjay and Rakhi.

He went to an exclusive primary school called Winchester College, subsequently going on to study philosophy, politics, and economics at Oxford University – often considered the trusted route into British politics.

Sunak moved on to work in finance for Goldman Sachs and met his wife Akshata Murthy, daughter of billionaire Infosys founder Narayana Murthy, during his residence in Silicon Valley. The couple have two daughters, Anoushka and Krishna. 


Breakthrough Into British Politics

It was in 2015 when he entered Parliament, contesting from Richmond in North Yorkshire, a Conservative stronghold, and succeeded former party leader William Hague.

Sunak spent the next few years largely working in the shadows, remaining largely unknown outside the Tories. But a snafu within the government quickly changed things for Sunak.

Sajid Javid’s resignation as chancellor of the exchequer left a Sunak-shaped hole in the Johnson government. In a matter of a few weeks, Rishi Sunak went from being a relatively unknown MP to holding one of the greatest state roles in the UK.

While Sunak’s honeymoon period was cut short by COVID, he now found himself having to deal with the financial challenges and impact of a deadly pandemic.

Moreover, Sunak was publicly held accountable every day, as he was tasked with practically daily television appearances to update the British populous about his policy decisions. 

But Sunak turned the pandemic into a personal success and is credited for the government’s furlough scheme that made the UK Treasury pay wages to people unable to attend work due to widespread lockdowns. 

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. 

But as the UK hailed Sunak for waning off one of the lethal financial consequences of the pandemic, darker clouds appeared for the Conservative government.


Fall in Popularity and First 10 Downing Street Bid

As questions began to be raised about the much-needed economic recovery, it was revealed that Boris Johnson broke lockdown rules to throw massive parties at 10 Downing Street and was fined by the police.

Rishi Sunak also attended and was also served a penalty by the police, but largely escaped criticism because the UK believed that he ended up at the “office gathering” on his way to a meeting.

Moreover, Sunak's 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 together dented his reputation of being the most-liked minister in the Boris Johnson Cabinet.

At a time where Sunak was being dubbed “the next possible prime minister,” his wife’s non-domicile status, which permits her to not pay tax from her earnings made outside of the United Kingdom, put a stop in his tracks. 

Sunak is widely credited for being the lynchpin whose resignation ultimately triggered Boris Johnson’s exit from 10 Downing Street.

Sunak, along with Health Secretary Sajid Javid, submitted their resignations at almost the same time, bringing in more resignations from their fellow Tory MPs and eventually leading to Johnson’s ouster. 

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.


The contest after Johnson’s exit also defined Sunak in two ways.

To some Tory members, Sunak is the chancellor who nursed the United Kingdom through COVID, to others he is the man who betrayed Boris Johnson.

During the leadership contest, which he lost after being the most popular in five of the six rounds, Sunak warned Truss that tax cuts would lead to market panic and cause a jump in costs of borrowing, which was proved correct after Truss’ economic programme set off the fuse which eventually led to her ouster.

A Strong Conservative

Sunak has strong conservative credentials and claims to have modelled himself as the heir to Margaret Thatcher, the divisive Tory PM who served between 1979 and 1990.

He’s a staunch Brexit-eer, fueled by his hardline stance on immigration. 

Sunak’s anti-immigration stance came into the spotlight after he supported the UK government’s controversial Rwanda asylum policy, which essentially deports asylum seekers to Rwanda, adding that he will do "whatever it takes to get our partnership with Rwanda off the ground."

Sunak has also made headlines for his stance on LGBTQIA+ issues and climate change. Propagating an “anti-woke” narrative, Sunak has almost always voted against measures to prevent climate change.

While he pandered to “anti-woke” issues to win the hearts of over 200,000 Tories, he has mostly remained absent from all major votes on LGBTQIA+ legislation. 

However, he has said that transpeople should be respected, but added that he saw biology as “fundamental” and “important.” 


Truss' Out, Sunak In

The parliamentary party had always preferred Sunak, an overall likeable minister within Parliament and avoided asking members to coalesce around their choice of candidate.

Rather, at least 200 MPs joined together to “Rally for Rishi,” which was also Sunak’s campaign slogan during the first leadership contest.

Now, Sunak has big things to do. With a worsening financial situation followed by two months of inaction while the Tories used trial-and-error to find a new PM, the mini budget setback and the ever-present war in Ukraine, the cost-of-living crisis and rising interest rates, Sunak’s time at 10 Downing Street would be anything but a party. 

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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