For some Tories, former Chancellor Rishi Sunak is the clear choice to steer Britain’s economy back to stability, having largely predicted the turmoil unleashed by Liz Truss’ tax cut programme.
But for others he is still the traitor who brought down Boris Johnson, raising the question of whether he can unite a fractious Tory party.
Mr Sunak, once the Conservative Party’s golden boy, clearly believes he has a chance to convince them he can, taking another tilt at No 10 just over six weeks after losing last time out.
He was beaten in the last Tory leadership race as party members chose their rival Ms Truss, winning 60,399 votes to 81,326.
In this contest, he positioned himself as the candidate willing to tell hard truths about the state of public finances rather than “heartwarming fairy tales”.
He remained resolute in the view that his rival’s promises of unfunded tax cuts at a time of worsening inflation were irresponsible, dangerous and unconservative, predicting they would lead to soaring mortgage rates .
After Ms Truss took office, her disastrous mini budget sparked financial market turmoil and forced the Bank of England to intervene, proving Mr Sunak right.
He kept a low profile as the chaos continued, staying away from the Tories’ annual conference, which was overshadowed by a U-turn on a flagship policy to scrap the 45p income tax rate .
Accusations in the last leadership race that he represented ‘Treasury orthodoxy’ and a ‘dark’ mentality may speak in his favor this time around, as many will be reassured by his undoubted experience in managing the economy. and its realistic approach.
The ex-Chancellor garnered a string of backing from MPs before declaring he would stand, with supporters pointing to his ‘calm competence’ and describing him as a ‘serious person for serious times’.
At the start of the pandemic, he was the nation’s most popular politician as he rolled out an unprecedented furlough scheme that saved millions of jobs as the economy ground to a halt.
His ambitions had been barely concealed from the day he entered No 11, with personalized branding on carefully curated social media content to boost his public profile as well as a concerted campaign to woo MPs.
His meteoric rise under Mr Johnson quickly made him the Cabinet minister nominated as the most likely successor.
Born in 1980 in Southampton to parents of Punjabi origin, Mr Sunak’s father was a family doctor and his mother ran a pharmacy, where he helped her with the books.
After private studies at Winchester College, where he was prefect, and a degree in philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford, he took an MBA at Stanford University in California where he met his wife, Akshata Murty, the daughter the sixth richest man in India. .
A successful business career, with stints at Goldman Sachs and as a hedge fund manager, meant that by the time he decided to enter politics in his early 30s, he was already independently wealthy.
In 2014 he was selected as the Conservative candidate for the ultra-safe seat of Richmond in North Yorkshire – then held by William (now Lord) Hague – and was duly elected in the general election the following year.
In the 2016 Brexit referendum, he backed Leave, much to the dismay of David Cameron who saw him as one of the most promising Conservative candidates among the new wave.
Given his first post in government, as a junior local government minister, by Mr Cameron’s successor Theresa May, he was an early supporter of Mr Johnson in the lead when she was kicked out amid Brexit fallout.
When Mr Johnson entered No 10 in July 2019, the payoff was swift with a dramatic Cabinet promotion as Chief Secretary to the Treasury.
An even bigger step followed in February 2020 when Sajid Javid quit as chancellor after rejecting a demand for all his advisers to be sacked and Mr Sunak put in charge of the nation’s finances, aged 39. years only.
The increasingly rapid spread of Covid-19 meant that his mettle was quickly tested. Within a fortnight of his first budget, he was effectively forced to tear up his financial plans as the country went into lockdown.
The new chancellor, who saw himself as a traditional small-state, low-tax conservative, began pumping hundreds of billions of dollars in government cash as the economy was on life support.
But as the country emerged from the pandemic, some of the shine began to fade amid rising tensions with its No 10 neighbor and anger among Tory MPs over tax hikes as he sought to rebuild public finances.
To add to his woes he was caught up in the ‘partygate’ scandal, being fined, along with Mr Johnson, for attending a rally to mark the Prime Minister’s 56th birthday, despite only claiming to have entered in No. 10 to attend a meeting.
There were more questions when it emerged his wife had ‘non-dom’ status for tax purposes, an arrangement that would have saved him millions, despite retaining a US ‘green card’, entitling him to permanent residence in the United States.
For a man known for his penchant for expensive gadgets and trendy accessories, and who still has an apartment in Santa Monica, everything seemed dangerously disconnected at a time when spiraling prices were putting financial pressure on millions of people in across the country.
His frustrations with Mr Johnson’s chaotic style of government, as well as a growing divergence over policy, finally boiled over when he dramatically resigned, prompting a rush out the door by other ministers who forced the Prime minister to admit that his time was up.
Mr Sunak has not repented of his decision to step down, although he admitted it was a decision that could have hurt his position among the rank and file who had chosen Mr Johnson as Prime Minister a few years earlier .
It remains to be seen if his colleagues, and the faithful of the party, are ready to forgive him for this affront, and if the time has come for this former golden boy to shine.