Seven weeks after losing his first attempt to lead Britain, former finance chief Rishi Sunak will replace Liz Truss as prime minister and make history as the first person of color to hold the role.
Sunak, 42, emerged victorious in a lightning-fast contest by the ruling Conservatives on Monday to choose a new party leader and thus Britain’s new prime minister. The process began after Truss resigned on Thursday as prime minister with the shortest term in the country’s history after a tumultuous tenure roiled markets and unleashed chaos in the Conservative parliamentary base.
In a dizzying turn of political fortunes, Sunak was the only leading candidate to get at least 100 signatures from other Conservative lawmakers as of Monday afternoon. Rival Penny Mordaunt failed to garner enough supporters and former Prime Minister Boris Johnson withdrew from the race late on Sunday.
Sunak will become Britain’s third prime minister in less than two months after the resignations of Truss and Johnson. Sunak, of Indian descent, will be the first non-white leader of Britain, which, by contrast, has had three female prime ministers.
“To be able to serve the party I love and give back to the country to which I owe so much is the greatest privilege of my life,” Sunak said in a brief statement at Conservative Party headquarters two hours after the announcement his rise. “The UK is a great country, but we undoubtedly face a profound economic challenge. We need stability and unity now.”
It’s a remarkably rapid rise to the top of British politics for a man who has spent most of his adult life working in finance, at Goldman Sachs and at hedge firms. Sunak will take up the post of prime minister with relatively little experience in the upper echelons of government, although he has had a quick learner during the pandemic as Johnson’s chancellor of the exchequer, or chief financial officer, overseeing a popular scheme that kept paychecks flowing to Britons during lockdowns .
The new prime minister will not officially take office until King Charles III. formally appoints him and proposes the formation of a government. That will probably happen on Tuesday.
Like his predecessors Truss and Johnson, who resigned in July amid unrelenting scandal, Sunak will have daunting tasks ahead of him in a struggling Britain.
Inflation is at its highest level in 40 years as the nation faces a dark winter of rising energy costs. The pound has been hovering near par with the dollar as a result of Truss’ tax cut policies which have crashed the markets and caused their downfall. Sunak, at least, can claim more economic sanity after he warned during her summer leadership contest that Truss’ tax plans are a “fairy tale” whose numbers “won’t add up” because they cut billions from the state budget without this offset losses.
But he, too, will have to grapple with breakaway sentiment in Scotland, which could flare up again, and the long-term economic and cultural impact of Brexit, which has not yet been fully visible since Brexit came into effect in 2020.
“What we’ve been seeing lately is not normal – it’s chaos,” said Rod Dacombe, director of the Center for British Government at King’s College London. “Sunak will have to make some very difficult decisions. He will need to present himself as an economically steady hand at a difficult time for the UK economy with the looming prospect of a general election.”
Sunak also faces a party in confusion. The Conservatives hold a strong majority of seats in the House of Commons but have been torn apart by infighting over leadership of their party. A general election is not expected before January 2025, but polls have shown the Conservatives would be wiped out by the opposition Labor Party if held now.
“Sunak’s biggest challenge will be reassuring people that the government is on their side and actually caring about them,” said Darren Lilleker, professor of political communications at Bournemouth University. “Then it’s about rebuilding the economy, calming the markets and restoring confidence in the party. Each of these is quite a challenge on its own.”
Sunak has strong conservative credentials. He supported Brexit – fueled by anti-immigrant sentiment – and has joined Britain’s culture wars in railing against “woke nonsense” which he says is “permeating public life”. He supports a controversial government policy of deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda for processing.
Sunak will not make history at 10 Downing Street just because of his ethnicity. A Hindu who has spoken frequently and lovingly about his religious traditions, he becomes Britain’s first non-Christian Prime Minister. His victory in Monday’s leadership competition came on the same day as the important Hindu holiday of Diwali.
In a nation of 63 million that is 87% White, Asians like Sunak are the largest ethnic minority at 7%. Most have roots in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, which were part of British-ruled India until 1947.
Sunak grew up in the English port city of Southampton as the son of immigrant parents who were born in East Africa, but has close personal ties to the subcontinent. He is married to Akshata Murthy, the daughter of an Indian tech billionaire. Sunak, whose worth is in the hundreds of millions of dollars, will be the richest British Prime Minister in modern history. He was educated at Oxford and Stanford Universities.
In a country where a cost of living crisis threatens to push hundreds of thousands of people into poverty in the coming months, critics say Sunak’s wealth and privileged upbringing is causing him to lose touch with ordinary Britons. While he was fighting Truss over the summer, a video clip of a college-age Sunak saying he had no “working-class friends” went viral.
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Still, British Future director Sunder Katwala said Sunak’s win was a “historic achievement” simply because of his Indian origins.
“This just wouldn’t have been possible a decade or two ago,” said Katwala, whose think tank researches opinions on race, identity and immigration.
“The British public will judge Rishi Sunak on his ability to tame the chaos in Westminster, put public finances in order and restore political integrity. But we should not underestimate this important social change,” said Katwala.
https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2022-10-24/rishi-sunak-britain-new-prime-minister Rishi Sunak to be U.K.’s new, first nonwhite prime minister