Rishi Sunak
Conservative Party leadership candidate Rishi Sunak leaves the campaign office in London, Monday, Oct. 24, 2022. Former British Treasury chief Rishi Sunak is frontrunner in the Conservative Party's race to replace Liz Truss as prime minister. Image Credit: AP

Rishi Sunak is the new Conservative leader and will be the UK’s next Prime Minister. Penny Mordaunt, leader of the House of Commons, was his main contender in this leadership contest.

Things have moved at dizzying pace in the last 24 hours as Boris Johnson, seen as a potential Prime Minister again, pulled out of Conservative Party leadership race, paving way for Rishi Sunak to become Britain’s next Prime Minister.

Many MPs were reportedly concerned about the upcoming privileges committee inquiry into whether Johnson misled the Commons over the Partygate scandal. Not sure if he might get enough MPs to back him, Johnson bowed out.

What led to the current scenario?

After her disastrous series of policy decisions misfired, Liz Truss last week resigned as Prime Minister. She had attempted to radically reorient UK’s economic agenda, promising to cut taxes for the highest earners and biggest corporations — with no plans to pay for it.

That policy sent the financial markets reeling, and just after 44 days as prime minister, Truss announced her resignation.

Which leads us to the current scenario.

Enter Rishi Sunak

Rishi Sunak, who lost to Truss in the Conservative leadership race, a few weeks ago, now appears likely to enter No 10. Sunak has launched his official campaign with a declaration that “fixing the economy” was his priority.

Previously, the Conservative party had chosen Truss over Sunak but as the party prepares to choose its third leader in little more than six weeks, there is a set precedent. A candidate must get the backing of 100 Conservative MPs to be on the slate.

The Tory vote entails majority of the 160,000 or so Conservative Party members up and down the UK.

Sunak faced only Mordaunt in the race. She eventually dropped out on Monday.

Although her campaign released a poll that showed she was the unity candidate in the country ahead of Rishi Sunak, in the end Mordaunt pulled out of the top race.

Quick facts
Age: 42

Place of birth: Southampton

Education: Winchester College, Oxford University, Stanford University

Family: Married to Akshata Murty, daughter of Narayana Murthy, founder of Infosys

Parliamentary constituency: Richmond (Yorkshire)

Early warning shots

Sunak accurately predicted what was going to happen to the UK under Liz Truss’ ‘fairy tale’ economics. Many party grandees think it might be a good thing to hand the mantle of leadership to the 42 year, Oxford and Stanford educated Sunak.

But Sunak has his critics and opponents — both within and outside the Conservative ecosystem. 

Rishi Sunak
Britain's Conservative MP Rishi Sunak leaves his home address in London, Britain October 24, 2022. Image Credit: Reuters

Sunak has the cred

Sunak, however, has the credibility that the incoming UK government needs at this point in time. Economically Thatcherite, but socially liberal, Sunak has the financial acumen and political smarts needed for the top job.

The former Goldman Sachs executive who became Chancellor of the Exchequer at 39, famously warned in advance that Truss’ tax cuts were dangerous and would cause a huge jump in borrowing costs.

The former Winchester head of college was previously hailed for his role in the UK’s financial response to the Covid-19 pandemic and its economic impact, including the Coronavirus Job Retention and Eat Out to Help Out schemes.

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Meteoric rise

A Conservative MP for Richmond in Yorkshire, Sunak first became a junior minister in Theresa May’s government. During Brexit, Sunak campaigned for Leave.

As Chancellor of Exchequer, Sunak faced some criticism for axing a £20-a-week increase to Universal Credit (that had helped some poor families through the pandemic) but most see him as someone who successfully rescued Britain from Covid-19.

Sunak also faced flak for retaining his American green card, which he has now surrendered. His wife Akshata Murthy also came under scrutiny for enjoying the benefits of living in Britain while paying very little in taxes.

A desi descent

Born in 1980, to parents of Indian heritage (of Punjabi descent) who had arrived in Britain via East Africa, Sunak likes cricket, football and movies. “British Indian is what I tick on the census. I am thoroughly British, this is my home and my country, but my cultural heritage is Indian,” Sunak famously told media in 2020.

Two years on, Britain will get its first Prime Minister of Indian extraction. On the auspicious eve of Diwali.