Rishi Sunak: The Making of a Prime Minister

Rishi Sunak’s road to the 10 Downing Street may have taken him longer than he would have liked but it is no accident. Over recent years, Sunak has been preparing and positioning himself for the time in which he would become the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

In the 2015 General Election, he was first elected to parliament as MP for the constituency of Richmond in North Yorkshire. His first big policy decision or dilemma in politics came early-on through the Brexit referendum. Sunak chose to campaign for the successful Vote Leave campaign. However, he is publicly portrayed as a somewhat sensible Brexiteer. Understanding that compromise must be and should be sought with the European Union on issues such as the Northern Ireland Protocall

Over the next couple of years after the referendum, Sunak would remain a relatively unknown character on the periphery of British politics. That would change in late 2019, when Sunak represented the Conservative Party on both the BBC and ITV’s leaders debate for the 2019 General Election. These high-profile appearances by Sunak highlight that he has been pinpointed by party colleagues for his communication and debating skills long before holding a cabinet position. Shortly after that successful election for the Tories, the resignation of Sajid Javid as Chancellor of the Exchequer in February 2022 would open the door for his department underling, Sunak, to be promoted to the man who controls the UK’s pursestrings. 

Over the next two years, Sunak would be faced with the challenge of keeping the UK’s economy stable and alive during the COVID-19 Pandemic. During this time, Sunak’s party leader and Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, would be embroiled in scandal due to his attendance at parties in Downing Street while the UK was in lockdown. Johnson’s failure to quash what is known as Partygate left much to be desired for his Chancellor Sunak, who’s resignation from government in July 2022 would be the catalyst for many to follow and see Johnson ousted from his premiership. 

A Tory leadership contest ensued, with Sunak named as a frontrunner and a favourite amongst the bookies from the start. This contest would ultimately end in defeat for Sunak after getting to the final two candidates where party membership decided to opt for Liz Truss instead (that worked out well!). 

Rishi Sunak’s campaign to be Tory leader during the summer was unsuccessful as he could not win over a majority of the party membership, who favoured Truss and her policies of lower taxes and free-market economics. Sunak is also no stranger to typical conservative ideals on the issues of taxation and the free-market economy. However, he warned that Truss’ plan was too bold given the current economic climate of high inflation. He would be proven right.

Sunak’s campaign to be leader originally ended in defeat because he relied too heavily on convincing Tory MPs of his credentials rather than the party membership. This failure to win over the regular Tory voting membership can be seen as a failure to communicate effectively with his party’s own base, which will be sure to play on the minds of Sunak and his political advisors in time to come. His campaign slogan was ‘Ready for Rishi’. It was only last month, Tory MPs and members were not. 

Unfortunately for Sunak, his campaign to be leader this summer was also marred by his relationship with wealth. Sunak and his wife, Akshata Murty, are believed to have an estimated net worth of £730 million. The problem with Sunak’s wealth was that it made people and the media question whether he could truly relate to people on low incomes that are suffering through the current cost of living crisis. While Sunak repeatedly tried to bat away those claims, it remained a hot topic throughout the leadership contest with Truss. 

This was not helped by the surfacing of a video, while on the campaign trail, of him speaking at a plush Tory garden party where he remarked about “undoing” measures that provided funding to “deprived urban areas” as Chancellor. This video was also used as an attack point by Labour Leader Keir Starmer, during Sunak’s first Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs). This shows that the opposition plan to use this video as a way of convincing the British public that Sunak does not care for those in low socio-economic urban areas. 

So, why are Tories now willing to accept Rishi Sunak, when only in early September they elected Liz Truss as leader and Prime Minister over him.?

The answer is simple -Truss lost their trust.

Her bold approach to instigate growth in the economy in her mini budget, alongside her then Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng, saw the financial markets lose trust in the UK economy. This led to soaring interest rates for borrowing and the value of the British pound slump as a result. Over the next six weeks, Truss’ government would be in turmoil and it would see her sack her own newly appointed Chancellor and her Home Secretary resign due to a security breach. 

Truss lost support amongst her cabinet, Tory backbenchers, and the general public. When she signalled her intention to resign as Prime Minister only six weeks after taking office. The overwhelming majority of Tory MPs saw only one person capable of steadying the ship. On to the stage enters Rishi Sunak.

The man who has quickly built himself a formidable political career and reputation through marketing himself as a serious politician and now leader, holds the highest office you can in British politics. Even a late run from Boris Johnson could not deter Sunak this time.

So six weeks on, it seems the Tories are now finally ‘Ready for Rishi’!


Dylan Morley is part of the Fuzion PR team who operate from offices in Dublin and Cork, Ireland

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