- The son-in-law of Infosys co-founder Narayana Murthy is among the top contenders to replace Prime Minister Boris Johnson in the wake of the 'Partygate' scandal.
With pressure mounting on embattled U.K Prime Minister Boris Johnson to resign following the partygate scandal, names of his top lieutenants — Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss — have been making rounds as a possible replacement at 10 Downing Street.
British Indian Rishi Sunak, a member of the Conservative Party, is the current Chancellor of the Exchequer. If elected, the 41-year-old would be the first person of South Asian heritage, and the first person of color, to become prime minister and to lead a major British political party. Truss has been serving as foreign secretary since 2021 and Minister for Women and Equalities since 2019.
Johnson has been facing the wrath of the public ever since he acknowledged hosting and attending a ‘bring your booze’ party at his official residence when a lockdown was imposed across the UK due to Covid in 2020. The prime minister has apologized to the Parliament for attending the party, saying he “implicitly” thought it was a work event.
According to Politico Europe, “some in the famously regicidal Conservative Party detect the beginning of the end, and predict an attempt to remove him [Johnson] by next summer, others caution that reports of his demise are greatly exaggerated.”
The Guardian reported that while Truss, Home Secretary Priti Patel, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Sajid Javid and others, who “harbor hopes of climbing to the top of the greasy pole when Johnson falls,” attended the infamous party, Sunak was conspicuously absent.
If he does becomes the prime minister, it will be historic at several levels, the most important one also being the most ironic — a man of Indian descent whose ancestors were subjugated and colonized by the British Empire for over 200 years, now “rules Britania,” as it were.
On Jan. 18, Sunak broke his silence over the scandal and gave an interview to The Independent. He said he believed Johnson’s explanation of the event to the Parliament, and that he supports him. Asked if the prime minister should resign if he lied to Parliament, Sunak told The Independent that he is “not going to get into hypotheticals, the ministerial code is clear on these matters.” But after being pressed about partygate, he abruptly ended the interview.
The Ascent of the British Indian
Sunak has had a meteoric rise from hedge fund whizz-kid to the keeper of the nation’s finances at a time of major economic shock. While he “may not have risen without trace,” The Guardian notes that “his ascent has been unusually rapid.” A businessman and a political neophyte, Sunak entered the Commons in 2015, succeeding William Hague as MP for Richmond in North Yorkshire. After being a minister only since 2018, The Guardian says Sunak then “raced up the ministerial ladder after being handpicked by Johnson to succeed Javid as chancellor less than two years ago.
And despite his “relative inexperience,” The Guardian says that within weeks of being named Chancellor, “he scrambled emergency financial support for the millions of firms, workers and welfare recipients hit by the pandemic, turning him into a household name overnight.” Sunak earned a good reputation for his tough stance on COVID restrictions and international aid. “His personal ratings soon outstripped Johnson’s, and he began earning confidence and plaudits from several Conservative MPs,” The Guardian noted. However, The Guardian goes on to say that Sunak’s “acquiescence in the imposition of new tax rises to boost health spending and fund England’s creaking social care system throws into question the traditional, small-state Tory credentials he is so eager to advertise.”
But at the same time, people’s trust in him as chancellor during “the greatest peacetime crisis of the modern era,” is evident in several polls. He was ahead in a recent Sky/YouGov survey of members. Nearly half of Conservative members thought Sunak would make a better party leader than Boris Johnson, the survey found out. A ConservativeHome poll conducted on Dec. 27, 2020, showed Sunak trail Truss. However, in an Observer/Opinium poll over Christmas, responders said Sunak would do far better for the Tories in a general election than either Johnson or Truss.
Robert Ford, professor of political science at the University of Manchester said to The New York Times Sunak leads the polls of Conservative Party members and is Johnson’s “most Plausible replacement.”
But there’s no denying that his inexperience is of concern to many. According to The Guardian, many say “the exceptionally wealthy” contender “operates within his own bubble and is too close to Dominic Cummings, who is keen to destabilize Johnson.” The Guardian notes that Sunak’s popularity, “which was very high when he was doling out public money to support the economy during the first phases of Covid, seems to be ebbing,” because of the return of inflation, the imminence of the tax rises that he announced in the autumn budget and the expected big hike in energy charges from April.”
Who is Rishi Sunak?
Sunak was born in the U.K. to a pharmacist mother and a National Health Service (NHS) general practitioner (GP) father. An Oxford University and Stanford graduate, he is married to Akshata Murty, the daughter of Infosys co-founder Narayana Murthy. The couple has two young daughters Krishna and Anoushka.
Sunak first entered the UK Parliament in 2015 and has quickly risen the Tory party ranks as a staunch Brexiteer, who had backed Johnson’s strategy to leave the European Union (EU). He served as a Parliamentary Private Secretary at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy from June 2017 until his ministerial appointment.
Before being appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer in February 2020, he was Chief Secretary to the Treasury, and Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.
In a blog on his website, Sunak writes that he grew up watching his parents serve in their local community with dedication. “I wanted to make that same positive difference to people as their Member of Parliament and I was first elected to represent this wonderful constituency in 2015 and re-elected in 2017 and 2019.”
Before joining politics, Sunak spent his professional career in business and finance, working internationally. He co-founded an investment firm working with companies in multiple geographies. He then used that experience to help small and entrepreneurial British companies grow. “From working in my mum’s tiny chemist shop to my experience building large businesses, I have seen first-hand how politicians should support free enterprise and innovation to ensure our future prosperity,” he writes in his blog.