Sunak: The golden boy who lost his shine among conservative members

Rishi Sunak, once the Conservative Party’s golden boy, is now bracing for a moment of political reckoning as polls point to a likely defeat in the race for prime minister.

After a shrewd campaign launch saw him become the favored candidate of Tory MPs, things started to go downhill when the contest was handed over to the party’s 180,000 members.

With just days left in the contest to replace Boris Johnson, in whose downfall Mr Sunak played a significant role, all signs seem to suggest that after weeks of roundups and media appearances, the conservative base is set to pick rival Liz Truss.

While Mr Sunak and his supporters have insisted there is always a risk of upheaval, Mr Sunak has emerged in recent days to acknowledge he faces an uphill battle.

“If I spent all my time watching the polls or reading the newspapers, I probably wouldn’t get up in the morning to do all those things,” he said in a recent interview.

A far cry from his meteoric rise under Mr Johnson, when he quickly became the Cabinet minister nominated as the most likely successor.

Rishi Sunak has remained resolute in his attacks on Liz Truss and her tax cut plans (Niall Carson/PA)

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 bid to charm Tory voters has proven more difficult, with his undoubted experience of managing the economy instead prompting accusations that he represents a Treasury orthodoxy unsuited to the gigantic threat to Britain’s economy.

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 politics, philosophy 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 following year’s general election.

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 government job – 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 took over. been kicked out amid the 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 Chancellor Sajid Javid resigned after rejecting a demand to sack all his advisers and Mr Sunak was put in charge of the nation’s finances, aged just 39 .

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 small, traditional conservative low-tax state, began pumping in 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 having retained a US ‘green card’, he eligible for 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 .

Throughout, he has remained resolute in viewing his rival’s promises of tax cuts at a time of worsening inflation as irresponsible, dangerous and unconservative.

Conservative leadership bid
Rishi Sunak, the former golden boy, struggled to excite Tory members (Liam McBurney/PA)

Fellow conservatives did not seem to share this view, with many defecting to Camp Truss during the contest.

The cut and thrust of a leadership campaign offers little time for soul-searching, but Mr Sunak will have to quickly decide which political course to take if he is defeated within days.

Although he has expressed some reluctance to join the cabinet of a prime minister he disagrees with, he will be acutely aware that a stint in the benches will offer limited opportunities for a second nudge. ° 10.

Whether he can pull off a shock victory or not, it’s clear that for the sake of his political future, this former golden boy must rediscover his luster.

About Lillian Coomer

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