As the fallout from Boris Johnson’s “partygate” scandal grows, and members of his own Conservative Party call for him to resign as Prime Minister, one name is circulating as a frontrunner for the job: his Indian-origin Chancellor and Downing Street neighbour Rishi Sunak.
The Oxford University and Stanford University graduate is the son of a pharmacist mother and a National Health Service (NHS) general practitioner (GP) father. He is married to Akshata Murty, the daughter of Infosys co-founder Narayana Murthy, and they have two children, Krishna and Anoushka.
The Member of Parliament for Richmond in Yorkshire was initially elected in 2015 and has quickly climbed through the Tory ranks as a fervent Brexiteer who endorsed Johnson’s agenda to leave the European Union (EU).
“I’ve witnessed how we should encourage free enterprise and innovation to ensure Britain has a stronger future,” Sunak stated during the Brexit referendum, “from working in my mother’s modest pharmacist shop to my experience developing enormous firms.”
Prior to entering politics, he co-founded a £1 billion worldwide investment firm that specialised on tiny British businesses.
Sunak made history in February 2020 when he was selected to the most important UK Cabinet role as the first Chancellor of the Exchequer of Indian descent.
If Tory party whispers and bookie betting odds are to be believed, the 41-year-old could be on his way to becoming Britain’s first Indian-origin Prime Minister.
“Without a doubt, no. Given the Prime Minister’s responsibilities, I believe this is a difficult task for me to undertake “When asked if he had prime ministerial ambitions, Sunak remarked in October 2020.
But a lot has happened since then, with Sunak spearheading the country’s economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Many of the programmes he implemented as finance minister, such as the furlough-based Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and COVID support grants for suffering businesses over the course of many lockdowns, were well-received.
Proposed tax hikes beginning in April, as well as steadily rising energy and living costs, have proven unpopular among Conservative Party supporters.
When it comes to a leadership battle, the notoriously low-tax Tories may find his high-tax proposals to recapture some of the lost economic footing during the pandemic difficult to swallow.
In fact, there is already discussion inside the party that he overplayed his hand by not speaking out more forcefully in defence of Johnson, 57, following his apologies in Parliament earlier this week for a Downing Street garden party that appeared to violate lockdown regulations.
Sunak, who was abroad of the country on a business trip at the time, later tweeted that “the PM was correct to apologise, and I support his call for patience while Sue Gray conducts her inquiry.”
This was interpreted as a half-hearted show of support that reflected his own leadership ambitions.
Sunak and his wife Akshata’s riches has frequently made news for the wrong reasons, with the Chancellor’s 95-pound pair of slippers spotted in official images released prior to the Budget last October being the most recent example.
This came after he was photographed holding a 180-pound “smart cup,” which was apparently a gift from his wife.
However, the British Indian community would like to emphasise his image as a family man who wears bracelets created by his daughters before significant speeches.
He has also described himself as a “proud Hindu,” most recently when a new 5-pound commemorative currency honouring Mahatma Gandhi’s life was launched for Diwali in November.
“I am honoured to release this coin during Diwali as a practising Hindu.” He stated at the time, “It is amazing to have a UK coin recognising his remarkable life for the first time,” referring to Mahatma Gandhi’s role in the Indian independence movement.
Sunak has been linked to the top post since taking over as Chancellor, prompting speculation in the UK media that he is seeking a move next door from his present No. 11 Downing Street office.
A historic dynamic in British politics has been a Prime Minister and Chancellor at odds with each other, and much of the speculation has been linked to that political power play.
However, if Johnson’s position within his own party becomes increasingly strained, the Downing Street neighbourly dynamic may well go on to write new British Indian history.