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Rishi Sunak will become the U.K.’s next prime minister

25 October 2022 10:37 am - 27     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


Rishi Sunak prevailed in a chaotic three-day race for leader of Britain’s Conservative Party on Monday, a remarkable political comeback that doubled as a historical milestone, making him the first person of color to become prime minister in British history.

The 42-year-old son of Indian immigrants, whose political career has already had its ups and downs, Mr. Sunak won the contest to replace the short-lived prime minister, Liz Truss, when his only remaining opponent, Penny Mordaunt, withdrew after failing to reach the threshold of 100 nominating votes from Conservative lawmakers.

Mr. Sunak, a former chancellor of the Exchequer, is expected to pull Britain back to more mainstream policies after Ms. Truss’s failed experiment in trickle-down economics, which rattled financial markets and badly damaged Britain’s fiscal reputation.  He is also likely to offer a stark contrast to the flamboyant style and erratic behavior of Boris Johnson, his former boss and Ms. Truss’s discredited predecessor.

But Mr. Sunak will confront the gravest economic crisis in Britain in a generation, and he will do so at the helm of a badly fractured Conservative Party. Healing the rifts in the party, and leading the country through the economic crosswinds of the months to come, will require political skills at least as adroit as those that enabled Mr. Sunak to navigate the leadership contest.

Mr. Johnson’s decision to pull out of the race on Sunday night cleared a path for Mr. Sunak, who had challenged Ms. Truss last summer but lost to her in a vote of the party’s rank-and-file members. With Mr. Sunak the only surviving candidate this time, he was not subject to another vote of the members.

It was a head-spinning reversal of fortune for Mr. Sunak, whose abrupt resignation from Mr. Johnson’s cabinet last July set in motion Mr. Johnson’s downfall and pitched Britain into upheaval, culminating in Ms. Truss’s brief, calamitous stint. After he lost the leadership contest to her, it seemed as if Mr. Sunak’s meteoric ascent had cratered as well.

Now, he will become Britain’s third prime minister in seven weeks, the youngest in two centuries and the first person of the Hindu faith to achieve its highest elected office.

A former investment banker whose wife is the daughter of an Indian technology billionaire, Mr. Sunak will also be one of the wealthiest people ever to occupy 10 Downing Street — something that could prove a vulnerability at a time when Britons are struggling to pay soaring gas bills. The Times of London this year estimated the couple’s worth at more than $800 million, placing them among the 250 wealthiest British people or families.

But if his victory swept away another barrier in British politics — putting Mr. Sunak in the same pathbreaking category as Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s first female prime minister, and Benjamin Disraeli, its only prime minister of Jewish heritage — it also thrust him into power at a singularly difficult moment.

“There is no doubt we face profound economic challenges,” Mr. Sunak said in brief, somewhat stiff, remarks after his victory. “We now need stability and unity, and I will make it my utmost priority to bring my party and country together.”

Britain is suffering the twin scourges of surging energy prices and a recession, as well as the self-inflicted damage of Ms. Truss’s free-market agenda: sweeping unfunded tax cuts that frightened markets, sent the pound into a tailspin and kicked off a rebellion of her own lawmakers.

The dramatic circumstances of Mr. Sunak’s rise reinforced the problems he will face in uniting a divided party. Had Ms. Mordaunt cobbled together the necessary 100 votes from lawmakers, polls suggested she would have stood a decent chance of beating him with the members, as Ms. Truss did.

Her failed challenge and Mr. Johnson’s aborted bid laid bare a party still torn by factions. Some members continue to view Mr. Sunak as Mr. Johnson’s political assassin, and the serial scandals of Mr. Johnson’s tenure, followed by the economic misfire of Ms. Truss’s, have left the popularity of the Tories in tatters.

The party now lags the opposition Labour Party by more than 30 percentage points in some opinion polls. The Labour leader, Keir Starmer, has demanded a general election, and those calls could grow louder as the new prime minister imposes a belt-tightening economic program in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis.

Still, political analysts said the party’s swift conclusion to the leadership contest, which avoided a vote by the members, suggested that for now, the feuding Tory factions were committed to rallying around Mr. Sunak. In her withdrawal statement, Ms. Mordaunt called for people to back her rival.

“After the trauma of the last four or five months, even factions that do not support Sunak are going to give him a fair wind,” said Tony Travers, a professor of politics at the London School of Economics. “They have to decide whether they want to win another election or spend a period out of government fighting with each other.”

British assets and the pound jumped after news of Mr. Sunak’s victory, raising hopes that his fiscal prudence and more technocratic style of governing would settle investors after the turbulence set off by Ms. Truss.

As a candidate, Mr. Sunak warned that her plan to reduce taxes at a time of double-digit inflation would be destabilizing. He called for keeping in place an increase in corporate taxes and holding off on a cut in income tax, both of which Mr. Sunak had proposed while chancellor. “Borrowing your way out of inflation isn’t a plan,” he said at a debate in July, “it’s a fairy-tale.”

Mr. Sunak said almost nothing about his plans during this more compressed race. But he is expected to hew to the agenda he laid out during the campaign last summer, which emphasized the need to curb inflation before reducing taxes. With Britain’s borrowing having risen as a result of Ms. Truss’s policies, he may be forced into deeper spending cuts than he once expected.

Some analysts expect him to retain Jeremy Hunt, the chancellor whom Ms. Truss recruited after she was forced to eject her first, Kwasi Kwarteng, the architect of the market-destabilizing tax cuts. Mr. Hunt reversed virtually all of Ms. Truss’s tax cuts, embracing ideas similar to Mr. Sunak’s. (nytimes)

“The pressure on him is to run the most stable, responsible, efficient government as is humanly possible,” Professor Travers said. “How the financial markets are going to respond is going to be major check on this government.”

The man chosen to face all these challenges was born in Southampton, on England’s south coast, to Indian immigrants who had moved to Britain from East Africa. His father was a family doctor; his mother ran a pharmacy. They saved to send him to Winchester College, one of Britain’s most academically rigorous high schools, and then to Oxford University, where he studied philosophy, politics and economics.

From there, Mr. Sunak worked at Goldman Sachs and at a hedge fund, and later earned an M.B.A. at Stanford University, where he met his wife, Akshata Murty. Her father is Narayana Murthy, the founder of Infosys, whose wealth Forbes magazine estimates at $4.5 billion.

Mr. Sunak entered Parliament in 2015, rising quickly to become chancellor in 2020, where he won instant popularity by handing out billions of pounds to protect those who lost jobs in the coronavirus pandemic.

But his career was nearly derailed by reports that Ms. Murty held a privileged tax status that allowed her to avoid paying millions of dollars in British taxes on some of her income. It also emerged that he had retained a U.S. green card, which would allow him to settle permanently in the United States.

Mr. Sunak gave up his green card and Ms. Murty changed her tax status, but the damage was done. Though he survived the episode, it left him with lingering vulnerability at a time of economic hardship for million of Britons.

Critics often tar him as a jet-setter, out of touch with the lives of ordinary people. It doesn’t help that he and Ms. Murty own expensive houses in London, in his parliamentary district in Yorkshire and in Santa Monica, Calif. Or that he works out on a Peloton exercise machine and has been photographed wearing $500 Prada suede loafers and using a $200 “smart” mug that keeps coffee at a precise temperature.

“It will hinge on what people see him doing,” said Anand Menon, a professor of European politics at Kings College London. “He will be vulnerable if he is seen as defending the privileged and the rich.”

Professor Menon said Mr. Sunak’s race was less of a factor in Britain than it would be for a comparable political figure in the United States. For one, he was elected by Conservative lawmakers rather than in a popular vote. While critics speculated that his Indian heritage might have hurt him with some party members last summer, his wealth was viewed as the bigger issue.

“It’s not like we’re living in some kind of post-racial nirvana here,” Professor Menon said. “We just do it somewhat differently than in the United States.”

On the streets of London, people reacted cautiously, perhaps reflecting weariness after months of turmoil in British politics.

“They need someone regular in charge — someone who knows what it’s really like out here, rather than looking down from the 26th floor,” said Hazel Wallace, 26, who works in an ice-cream parlor and views the cost of living as the biggest issue. “It’s survival of the fittest right now, what with everything going up.”

But David Smith, 69, a retired painter and decorator sipping a pint in the Bishop Blaize pub in Leyburn, said he was relieved that Mr. Sunak had replaced Ms. Truss. “He did warn the party that things wouldn’t be right with her, and nobody listened to him,” Mr. Smith said, adding that he expected Mr. Sunak to do “a fantastic job.” (nytimes)

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  Comments - 27

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  • This is a fact Tuesday, 25 October 2022 11:05 AM

    South Asian Hindus In Britain: 1 White Christian Britain: 1 South Asian Christians In Britain: 0

    J.N.R.M.Perumal Tuesday, 25 October 2022 11:13 AM

    Will there ever be a Tamil President or even a Tamil Prime Minister in Sri Lanka

    Jacob Tuesday, 25 October 2022 01:57 PM

    The right question is, whether there can be Tamil politicians who will do national politics like Rishi Sunak, Kamala Harris, Barack Obama, instead of communal politics, and become President or Prime Minister.

    Tissa Fernando Tuesday, 25 October 2022 11:17 PM

    Right on the spot Jacob , that is the million dollar question. All Tamil politicians in Canada , UK and Sri Lanka are focused on Tamil National land rather than all community interests. One Tamil origin politician I would have definitely voted for President was Late Kakshman Kadirgamar.who always put the nation before the race card.

    Wixie Tuesday, 25 October 2022 11:19 AM

    Real Democracy

    Terrence Tuesday, 25 October 2022 11:19 AM

    The new Prime Minister knows his onions unlike our counterpart the last President who messed by tax cuts, at the moment the Uk is having a recession with increased oil prices and inflation and the new PM will have to take unpopular decisions to contain inflation and expenditure. Sri Lanka should follow the path of this technocrat as we have already in an abyss

    BuffaloaCitizen Tuesday, 25 October 2022 11:47 AM

    Will such a thing happen in SL where a Tamil, Burgher, Muslim or in fact even a Christian Sinhalese ever become either President or PM. Though Sinhalese are Buddhist Converts, they are no where close to understanding the proper principles of Buddhism. They use Buddhism to cover their primitiveness.

    Raj Tuesday, 25 October 2022 12:09 PM

    As a 20 year old Jaffna Hindu Tamil who came to Britain many years ago for University education, I have loyalty to Britain but I don’t worship Britain. I am proud of my Hindu religion and my Tamil culture, and I am also actively aware, after coming to Britain, of the crimes committed by Britain in invading dozens of non white countries and the horrible things they did. I also personally experienced lot of racism in London specially when I was young. Now, I have lived for very long time in Britain and feel proud to be a “Jaffna Tamil British”. The problem with the South Asian Christians in Britain is that their reverence and respect is not to South Asia but to Britain. This is the reason why they can’t expect the White British to respect them, and the respect goes to the Hindus. This is why a South Asian Hindu is able to become a British Prime Minister.

    Curious Tuesday, 25 October 2022 12:49 PM

    Nonsense. Secular countries respect merit and attitude over religion,language and caste. The concept of countries or marked boundaries identifying itself with a religion and language is a very recent concept originating from Europe. Secular countries are now moving away from this concept. It will be good if the younger generation understands how to live in a multicultural society respecting merits and keep their religious identity as personal.

    Punchi Tuesday, 25 October 2022 12:12 PM

    We say the white man is racist. This white man's country applies meritocracy and makes an indian descent hindu person prime minister. In our country if a Hindu Tamil ( who we incorrectly say are invaders) is suitable for the position of president or prime minister our country, Buddhist Temples, Monks, us Sinhala people supposed products of a 2500 year civilisation and followers of a Buddha who preached tolerance will implode with hatred and violence. We even use our cunning to manipulate meritocracy to put people of stupidly that we intentionally allow to masquerade as intelligence to positions of responsibility. This is one of the reasons the civilized world is shunning us

    Mama rata yanva Tuesday, 25 October 2022 04:23 PM

    Civilized world does not shun us. Glad if it did, as that might wake up our pigheaded elected leaders, but there's always a steady trail of overseas envoy who come once a month.

    Sokrates Tuesday, 25 October 2022 12:13 PM

    Here you can see that England has the oldest democratic roots. While Sri Lanka is still clinging to the past, the first person from a foreign background came to the post of Prime Minister of the UK. Although many people with foreign roots had previously held leading positions at the local level, for example as Lord Mayor of London. In contrast to Sri Lanka, in the UK it doesn't matter what belief someone has or even has any belief.

    Patriot Tuesday, 25 October 2022 12:27 PM

    Seems he is self-made millionaire to become a PM of UK unlike Sri Lankan politicians, who rides a bicycle to attend parliament as MP and becomes a millionaire /billionaire in few years.

    Jeevan Tuesday, 25 October 2022 12:35 PM

    US vice president and UK priminister are from south indian origin.... Will Srilanka allow "south indian origin" to lead the country one day for better future?

    G T Tuesday, 25 October 2022 12:36 PM

    Only if you live in Britain , not coming at an older age from Sri Lanka and settling in Britain, you would realise that a brown coloured person being elected as a Prime Minister is a hugely important historical event. The British whites like all other Westerners are obsessed with the colour of the skin but because Britain is in major economic crisis they went for a Hindu brown man as he is considered smarter than all other British White Politicians.

    S Y Tuesday, 25 October 2022 12:48 PM

    Raj, You have given a good clear explanation for everyone to understand how a Hindu could become a British Prime Minister.

    Chandran Tuesday, 25 October 2022 01:19 PM

    Curious, if your theory is right then name a single South Asian Christian in Britain or America in any leadership position. In contrast look at who are the leaders in America’s top Technology companies , all are South Asian Hindus. Look at Britain, among the top politicians are there any South Asian Christians ? None. But there are several Hindus. So Mr “Christian“ Curious, you are talking utter garbage. Keep licking the white boots while Hindus progress in the West.

    Curious Tuesday, 25 October 2022 05:40 PM

    Your comments prove how primitive you are. What has religion got to do here. Will you celebrate the terrorist Prabakaran because he is a Hindu. Why should you hate a brown Christian because a white man dislikes him. Religion is one's personal choice. Clean your filthy mindset with phenol

    T D Tuesday, 25 October 2022 01:40 PM

    @Curious, you know nothing about Britain. Britain is not a secular country, Head of the country and the Head of the Christian Church is the same , King Charles. Furthermore all official national commemorations are held in the Church led by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Britain is in economic meltdown, the last Prime Minister only lasted less than 50 days, they don’t know what to do. So, they have gone for clever brown coloured Hindu. But they would never go to a brown Christian !

    Punchi Tuesday, 25 October 2022 02:51 PM

    @GT When I was in England I met a lot of our Tamils who said that the white English British respected them and treated them better than their experiences in their and our motherland. I myself mostly experienced much politeness and female love and also my lecturers in college took a paternal interest in my development. To be honest I felt safe in England compared to the primitiveness and lawlessness in our civilization when I returned after years of being away

    Terrence Tuesday, 25 October 2022 03:13 PM

    @Raj when you take citizenship in an adopted country you become a second class citizen although it is not spelled by the govt it is not Religion ie. Hindu, Christian, Buddhist or whether Tamil, Burgher, Sinhalese or Muslim that matters it is merit and attitude and whether you blend with the society in Britain saying that sometimes the Whites are sceptical as they feel threatened that their jobs are at stake that's why the Britishers were happy to get out of the European Union as many nationals from other countries competed in the job market.

    Madhu Tuesday, 25 October 2022 04:28 PM

    Instead of being happy that a South Asian Hindu has been elected as the British PM, some of the comments here spill the inner hatred that they have been carrying all along towards their Christian counterparts. Well, Christians constitute to less than 2 percent of entire South Asia. Ofcourse you are going to find more South Asian Hindus and Muslims. How hard is it to comprehend?

    Tamil Hindu Tuesday, 25 October 2022 08:57 PM

    Great Britain or United Kingdom is headed by a Hindu. World is changing, Sri Lanka still fighting with the Tamils and killing them day by day.

    jayt Wednesday, 26 October 2022 12:29 AM

    HI is not prime minister for India. Also, he is not from election. If some group able to bribe UK public, he may come to power. This is just temporary appointment gone by some people to bribe India. What is goal behind this to get india away from Russia and blocking India's traditional friendship with Russia. Nobody in UK and US like to give ownership of UK and US banks To India, instead, they are eying on getting ownership of banks in India. When Prez Obama was appointed by and promoted by same global group to serve their interest, African American went so excited just like Indian. At the end African American got nothing. They promised same thing to Tamil like giving Canada to Tamil. but Tamil forgets to ask one thing! Tamil could have asked, "Well, if you love us so much why not hand over all supermarkets and Banks in US?" None of western countries ever will convert to Hinduism or Tamilism. all is political bribe.

    jayt Wednesday, 26 October 2022 01:02 AM

    All Western politicians have launched political propaganda against other countries. but they never published those propaganda into public in the west. UK is one of the leading western countries with US and Israel wars across the globe. And they have been with western Jews creating European Union. They may have not known of Jews plan to bring Millions of Arabs and African into Europe. And once they knew it, they immediately dropped from EU. Politicians make statement in any part of the world is not real. It does not matter whether they are Western, Indian, Arab or anybody. Nobody anywhere in the world will open the door for any minority group openly take over a majority. Law and rights in the western countries are protected. I have no argument about it. No India, Aftrica. or Asian countries can't even come close to UK< US , Canada and EU when it comes to human rights and practicing law fairly.

    jayt Wednesday, 26 October 2022 01:33 AM

    Real democracy? One of the reason other two PMS were overthrown is not recognizing Israel's new Capital. He was promoted because he agreed to it. Hindu Muslim fight in UK and India was promoted by Israelis is part of it.

    Dammika Wednesday, 26 October 2022 02:48 AM

    Only one thing matters when you choose a leader for the country. You serve the country, NOT communal politics. Tamil or Muslims cannot become leaders in Sri Lanka because they only talk about communal politics not the interest of the country.

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