Rishi Sunak: Britain’s Embattled Conservative Leader

Rishi Sunak is seeking his own public mandate in next month’s general election after being anointed as Conservative leader and UK prime minister by his own parliamentary colleagues.

When the 44-year-old former financier succeeded Liz Truss in October 2022 after her 49-day premiership disintegrated, he was charged with calming the UK economy as well as his own notoriously volatile party.

Sunak has had some success on the former but has failed to end vicious Tory infighting, and surveys show he is one of the UK’s most unpopular leaders ever, with a high chance of losing the July 4 vote.

“The more people see of Sunak, the less they like him in some ways,” Tim Bale, author of a book about the right-wing Conservatives since Brexit, told AFP on Sunak’s first anniversary as premier last year.

Since then, Sunak has had little to celebrate, lurching from one failed leadership reset to the next while unsuccessfully attempting to reclaim support from Keir Starmer’s rising Labour party.

According to a recent survey, Nigel Farage’s anti-immigration Reform UK party is slightly ahead of the Tories.

Sunak has been chastised for lacking political acumen, particularly after leaving the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings early, provoking great uproar.

He has apologized several times subsequently, and he even had to deny that he was on the point of quitting before election day.

‘Dishy Rishi’

The privately wealthy Sunak has struggled to connect with regular voters struggling with a cost-of-living crisis.

He was roundly mocked for suggesting he had an austere childhood because his family did not have satellite television, while his interactions with voters have often seemed awkward.

His current political difficulties are a far cry from his rapid rise to power, becoming Britain’s youngest prime minister of modern times at age 42, as well as the first of South Asian descent.

The observant Hindu was born in Southampton on England’s south coast on May 12, 1980 to a family doctor father and mother who ran a local pharmacy.

Sunak’s grandparents were from Punjab in northern India and emigrated to Britain from eastern Africa in the 1960s, arriving with “very little”, he has said.

Sunak was educated at the exclusive private Winchester College, then Oxford and Stanford universities.

During his run for the Tory leadership, a video emerged of a 21-year-old Sunak talking about his friends.

“I have friends who are aristocrats, I have friends who are upper-class, I have friends who are, you know, working-class,” he says, before adding quickly: “Well, not working-class.”

Sunak, who made millions in finance, won the safe and mainly white Conservative seat of Richmond in Yorkshire, northern England, in 2015.

His Instagram-friendly profile earned him the media nickname “Dishy Rishi”.

Sunak’s first post in government came in January 2018, when Theresa May appointed him as junior minister for local government, parks, and troubled families.

He was an early Brexit supporter and became chancellor of the exchequer in February 2020, which proved to be a baptism of fire for the Tory rising star when the Covid epidemic broke out.

The detail-oriented policy Wonk was compelled to create a massive economic help package at breakneck speed, which he frequently highlights as one of his proudest political achievements.

Wealthy wife

The pandemic, however, tarnished his spotless record when he received a police citation for violating Covid regulations by attending a birthday party for then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson at Downing Street.

Sunak was also confronted with uncomfortable questions concerning his wife Akshata Murty’s tax troubles, whose father, Narayana Murthy, is the millionaire co-founder of information technology company Infosys.

In early 2022, publications revealed that she had non-domiciled status, implying that she had not paid UK taxes on her Infosys returns.

Sunak’s approval ratings plummeted, and Murty indicated that she would pay UK taxes on her global income.

The Sunaks met while studying in California and now have two young girls and a gorgeous dog.

He claims that his own family’s and his wife’s experiences are “very Conservative” stories of hard work and ambition.

Sunak resigned as finance minister in July 2022, triggering Johnson’s resignation after one too many scandals and public outrage over the government’s Covid response.

Many Conservatives have never forgiven Sunak and have criticised his leadership from the outside.

He claims that only he has a “clear plan” supported by “bold action” to change Britain, but voters appear to be limiting his term in office to fewer than two years.

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