A few days before Rishi Sunak’s 17th birthday, in May 1997, Tony Blair won the general election for the first time and became the UK Prime Minister with a landslide majority for the Labor Party. Sunak wrote in the private school magazine in which he was studying an article critical of Labor for its pro-European positions and the Conservative Party that he had just lost and that he already considered his own.
“No one chooses a divided party” or rewards “weak leadership and a corrupt and poorly managed campaign,” the young man wrote in reference to the Tories. In the piece, he also criticized the possible tax increase and what he called the lack of entrepreneurial spirit that Blair wanted to promote, echoing what the conservative tabloid Daily Mail said.RELATED
“At 16 I was clearly already a Eurosceptic and feared the creation of a European super state. He criticized that New Labor’s rhetoric sounded ‘worryingly pro-European’ and that ‘pro-European deliveries’ were being sent to Brussels,” says fellow Conservative Michael Ashcroft in Going for Broke: The Rise of Rishi Sunak. : The Rise of Rishi Sunak), one of the few published biographies of the new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
Being a conservative was unusual for a young man in those years when Labor was back in fashion and even sold that this was the way to be cool (“cool Britannia”, Blair repeated). But Euroscepticism was “the consensus position” of the Tories of that generation, as Tim Bale, Professor of Politics at Queen Mary University of London, who will publish a book on the Conservative Party after Brexit, explains to elDiario.es.
Beyond the Labor wave he didn’t ride, Sunak was different from most of his peers. He had come to that school, Winchester College, north of Southampton, where he had grown up, thanks to the extra effort of his parents, immigrants from an Indian family who had moved first to Kenya and Tanzania and then to the United Kingdom. His father was a family doctor and worked overtime in a department store to get more money to pay for the education of his three children; his mother, a pharmacist who managed to buy the pharmacy where she worked.
Sunak had grown up in middle-class comfort, but without great luxury. His most original vacations then were in Alcossebre, in Castellón, where some neighbors would let them their apartment in the summer. What they most appreciated there was cycling and playing tennis. Today Sunak continues to say that tapas are among his favorite foods.
His schoolmates describe him as “polite” and “friendly” in an environment that some describe as “intellectually arrogant.” In those years, the incident that he usually puts as the example of racism that most marked him as a teenager took place: in a restaurant, a group of diners from the next table began to say “nasty words” about him and his little brothers . He says they used the word “paki,” the derogatory term for people from Southwest Asia.
Sunak believes today that the country has changed and that this would not happen again or, if it did, someone at another table would intervene to defend young people like him and his brothers. He is now the first non-white to hold the position of prime minister in the United Kingdom, the first of the Hindu religion and the youngest prime minister of the modern era, at 42 years old. But Professor Bale reminds that he remains an exception in politics.
His rise, he explains, “reflects the prominence of ethnic minority MPs at the top of the Tory party, but there are not as many Tory and Labor MPs from that background”.
His arrival in politics was largely surprising to his own family. His parents, according to Sunak, were not interested in politics, but he began to look at tax policies by helping his mother with the pharmacy bills and realizing the impact of VAT or changes in benefits and taxes. He liked economics, English literature and French, dubious choices according to his parents, who preferred that he study something with a very clear job prospect.
But when he managed to get admitted to Oxford University, Sunak chose the classic career chosen by politicians – and in particular by prime ministers – called PPE, for its acronym in English for Philosophy, Politics and Economics. He says that he was interested in politics, but from afar. He did not belong to the association of conservatives at the University nor did he get into the debating society where, for example, Boris Johnson had enjoyed a few years before. Instead, he got into the investment society, a student club that invited speakers from the Bank of England, the London Stock Exchange or the International Monetary Fund.
For years he got what his parents wanted for him: a stable job and a good salary, first at Goldman Sachs and then at a London hedge fund. He won a Fulbright scholarship and studied a master’s degree in finance at Stanford University, in the United States, where he met what is now his wife, Akshata Murthy. After an attempted long-distance relationship from London, he went to live with her for a few years in California.
They got married in Bangalore, South India, in 2009 and now have two daughters.
Akshata is the daughter of one of the richest men in India, Narayana Murthy, an engineer who says that he did not have a telephone at home in 1980 when his daughter was born but that he became a millionaire by co-founding a successful software company, Infosys, that decade. , now a multinational.
The couple, because of her fortune and his earnings as a banker, are now one of the wealthiest families in the UK. Her fortune is estimated at 730 million pounds (about 830 million euros), according to a list of millionaires in the Sunday Times. Akshata had to explain her accounts this year when it was published that he did not pay part of the taxes in the UK on income earned in India due to an exception for non-residents. A few days later he assured that he would also pay that part in the United Kingdom.
In California, Sunak’s path seemed to distance himself from politics until he returned to the UK amid the Labor crisis and David Cameron’s rise to power. Hand in hand with his friend and best man, Spectator magazine political journalist James Forsyth, well connected to the Tories, he began to consider a public career seriously.
The identity crisis of the Tories, a party of whites and older men in an increasingly diverse country, helped some of the leaders take an interest in his profile. She wrote a report on minorities that she ended up presenting to Theresa May when she was Home Secretary. And he got William Hague, who was a Tory leader in the late 1990s, to notice him. Sunak, with no previous political experience, stood for his seat in Richmond, in a very Tory-safe but very traditional district, and won the 2015 election, which was handily won by Cameron.
After the Brexit referendum, he found himself on the winning side. Since a teenager, Sunak had been a Eurosceptic and, although there was much thought about which position to support once he was already in politics, he was among the conservatives who campaigned for leaving the EU alongside Boris Johnson. His conviction, as he said, came from an economic calculation, with the idea that the United Kingdom would compete better in international markets outside an EU, according to him, in decline. He repeated those arguments while his colleagues insisted on anti-immigration messages.
After the fall of Theresa May in 2019, Sajid Javid, Minister of the Economy and her protector despite the fact that he had not supported her in the race for the conservative leadership, took her to the Treasury in the Johnson Government. He hadn’t even turned 40 and was already a “rising star,” as journalist Nick Robinson put it on his BBC Political Thinking interview podcast that year.
The interview shows how striking his immigrant family background was, even though he was born in the UK and his parents had come to the country in the 1960s. Robinson asked him several questions about it, including “how Indian” was he upbringing. Sunak’s response was then that in his childhood home English was spoken mainly, a language that his grandparents also spoke, and that in cricket he encouraged England, but that India is part of his “identity”, that he is a practicing Hindu and does not eat beef. He also spoke then of what it meant for his family that he reached a position in the center of power in the United Kingdom.
He recounted the day he took his grandfather to visit the House of Commons shortly after being elected. “He stopped walking and took out the phone,” Sunak said. He wanted to call a friend from Westminster and tell him where he was. “He had tears in his eyes,” said his grandson, then a deputy.
His unexpected jump to the front row came when Johnson and Javid clashed, and in February 2020 Sunak became finance minister. He presented a budget in a few weeks with aid for the pandemic that was beginning to loom and a few days later he had to redo it when it became clear that the scale of the crisis was going to be immensely greater. The press conference on March 20, 2020 in which he presented the aid and solemnly said that for the first time the State would pay the salary of all workers who needed it is often remembered as one of the key moments in the rise of the.
Then he was praised by businessmen, unions and journalists, admired for his temperance in the face of Boris Johnson’s lurches those first weeks of the pandemic. In many ways, his figure seems to be the opposite of Johnson: educated, calm, thin, teetotal – his only temptation is Coca-Cola – and not a party animal, according to those close to him.
“A teetotaler, you are more likely to end a long day in Westminster at home with your family than gossiping at a dinner party. At heart, Sunak is a nerd: he enjoys video games, spreadsheets and Star Wars… ‘He is an ivory tower politician, he doesn’t care much about Parliament and the gregarious side of politics,’ says one Tory MP of his generation,” according to a Financial Times profile published in April 2020.
His rise has been rapid, but it is also a reflection of the new times. “MPs are progressing faster than used to be normal. David Cameron had only been in Parliament for four years when he became leader in 2005,” Professor Bale explains to elDiario.es.
Following the advice of some colleagues, Sunak often avoided getting into controversial public debates. On several occasions in the pandemic, he was against the restrictions but did not dare to take a forceful position in public due to the consequences that it could bring him and preferred to remain the figure who distributed aid beyond the debate on what to do. Thus he became one of the most popular ministers in the Johnson Government.
Yes, it was more forceful this summer in the conservative vote to succeed Johnson, with a clear position against the massive tax cut. That may have cost him the support of the militants of the Conservative Party, who, against the preference of the deputies, chose Liz Truss in September, who promised to lower taxes and tried to bring the country to almost bankruptcy.
In his first speech as leader of the Conservative Party, Sunak spoke Monday of “humility” and “integrity.” He did not refer to taxes, but Professor Tim Bale says that the wing to which Sunak has always belonged is thatcherite, “very much in favor of fiscal consolidation and a small state with low taxes and little spending.”
Ashcroft, in his friendly biography of the politician, believes that his more technocratic than ideological profile will make him flexible, citing William Hague, who argues that Sunak is someone capable of adapting: “I would have been a Thatcherite in the days of Thatcher , but he’s not stuck in the ’80s.”