For Sunak, meeting with groups of Conservative Party lawmakers helps him reach out and forge a network of support in parliament. For lawmakers, it’s a chance to meet someone many expect to one day move to next door to No.10, the home of the PMs. Sunak was virtually unknown 10 months ago, and his dizzying rise has surprised almost everyone in British politics, in all likelihood even the man who promoted him, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whose rates of approval dropped during the pandemic.
“Rishi Sunak possesses the assets that the Prime Minister so clearly lacks, not only basic skills but also a knowledge of the details,” said Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University in London. “And no one has mounted a social media campaign as obvious, like you, as Rishi Sunak,” he added.
It seems to be working. A recent poll of party members by the Conservative Home website placed Sunak, 40, easily at the top of cabinet satisfaction ratings, while Johnson was almost at the bottom of the list. Compare that with a survey by Bale in December in which members of the Conservative Party were asked who should take over, if Johnson is stepping down. “Only five out of 1,191 are called Rishi Sunak. And I’m not sure all of them spelled his name correctly,” he said.
When he was catapulted into his post in February, after two years as minister including six months as No.2 in the Treasury, Sunak was firmly in the shadow of Johnson, who had just won a landslide election victory.
But while Johnson failed during the coronavirus pandemic, Sunak was a beacon of calm and competence, quickly stepping in to spend billions of pounds to support jobs as the economy plummeted. With new restrictions coming into effect in parts of the country, Sunak announced new state support for affected areas, and on Monday he routinely defended his latest measures at a press conference alongside Johnson. .
Perhaps wisely, given the speculation about his ambitions, Sunak attempted to burst his own bubble when the Conservative Party virtually held its recent party conference. In a surprisingly short speech, he praised Johnson and warned that uncomfortable economic choices await him. The subliminal message seemed to be: “You might love me a little less when all this money has to be paid back.”
But for now, they like him very much, and his appeal to non-partisan Brits has been polished through social media posts on Instagram and Twitter designed around ‘Brand Rishi’. Allies insist that Sunak is simply using digital media techniques to communicate more effectively rather than to promote his ambitions. His messages stand out, however, from the lackluster annoyances of political advertising. Often times, they feature a stylish photo of the Chancellor approving a policy with his signature signature, much like a celebrity might promote an expensive fitness accessory.
This was probably not what Johnson expected when he promoted Sunak to succeed Sajid Javid, who resigned as chancellor after refusing to agree to restrictions on his right to hire his own advisers . Sunak agreed, which has led some to speculate that he would be more compliant. In the UK, the relationship between the Prime Minister and the Chancellor is often one of rivalry and tension. So the idea in February was to make sure there was a center of power over economic policy: at # 10.
But few PMs can afford to fire two chancellors, so Johnson was taking the risk of appointing someone as adept and diligent as Sunak. Not only is Sunak a flawless communicator, but, with his Indian heritage, he is a success story of modern multiracial Britain.
His grandparents, originally from the Punjab, came to England from British colonial East Africa in the 1960s. As a teenager, he says he suffered racist abuse. Sunaks’ father was a doctor and his mother ran a pharmacy. Together, they earned enough to send him to an elite private school, Winchester College.
Without this expensive education, Sunak might still have made it to Oxford University (he got the best grades). Sunak also obtained an MBA from Stanford University, where he met his future wife, Akshata Murthy, daughter of Narayana Murthy, co-founder of Infosys. Sunak worked for Goldman Sachs and two hedge funds before being elected to Parliament in 2015.
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