Rishi Sunak on Monday is all set to make history as Britain’s first Indian-origin Prime Minister after being elected unopposed as the new leader of the governing Conservative Party on Diwali, following Penny Mordaunt’s withdrawal from the race.
The 42-year-old former chancellor, a devout Hindu, was comfortably in the lead, having secured the public backing of over half the 357 Tory MPs – way above the 100 minimum required to make the shortlist. In time for the 1400 local time Monday deadline, Sir Graham Brady, chair of the influential 1922 Committee of backbench MPs, announced in the Parliament complex that he had received only one nomination and therefore Sunak is the winner of the leadership contest.
This means Sunak is poised to walk through the door of 10 Downing Street in London after an audience with King Charles III in Buckingham Palace, the timeframe of which will become known soon. Earlier, high-profile Tory MPs switched allegiance from Johnson to Sunak, including former Home Secretary Priti Patel and cabinet ministers James Cleverly and Nadhim Zahawi.
Patel, the Indian-origin former minister who resigned from the Cabinet when Liz Truss was elected the Prime Minister last month, said the Tories must put political differences aside to give Sunak the best chance of succeeding as the new leader.
Sunak’s victory marks a remarkable turnaround in political fortunes for the former finance minister, who lost out to outgoing Prime Minister Liz Truss just last month after his popularity among party colleagues did not translate in the wider Tory membership vote.
Truss on Thursday announced her resignation as the Prime Minister after just 45 days in office, following an open revolt against her leadership in the Conservative Party.
The UK-born son of Indian-origin general practitioner father Yashvir and pharmacist mother Usha had spoken extensively of his migrant roots during the last campaign and also referenced making history by lighting Diwali diyas at 11 Downing Street as the first Indian-origin Chancellor of the Exchequer.
“Sixty years after my Naniji boarded a plane in East Africa, on a warm sunny evening in October, her great-grandaughters, my kids, played in the street outside our home, painted Rangoli on the doorstep, lit sparklers and diyas; had fun like so many other families on Diwali. Except the street was Downing Street, and the door was the door to No. 11,” said Sunak, in his campaign video a few months ago.
That personal story also extended to a visibly emotional reference to his parents-in-law –co-founder Narayana Murthy and Sudha Murthy – as he hit back at attacks on his wife Akshata Murthy’s family wealth.
“I’m actually incredibly proud of what my parents-in-law built,” he said, during heated television debates over the past few months.
As a devout Hindu, Sunak is a regular at the temple where he was born in Southampton and his daughters, Anoushka and Krishna, are also rooted in the Indian culture.
He recently shared how Anoushka performed Kuchipudi with her classmates for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations at Westminster Abbey in June.
But beyond the personal, he also faced down attacks from his opponents over his record as Chancellor until his resignation precipitated Johnson’s exit.
He stood firm on his focus on inflation rather than any vote-winning tax cut promises to woo a traditionally low-tax favouring Conservative Party membership base.
“I will get taxes down in this Parliament, but I’m going to do so responsibly. I don’t cut taxes to win elections, I win elections to cut taxes,” he declared.
His self-made credentials of working his way through a non-scholarship place at one of the UK’s best schools, Winchester College, to a coveted Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) from Oxford University and then an MBA from Stanford University as a Fulbright Scholar tick all the right boxes for the country’s highest political office.
His private sector experience at Goldman Sachs and as a hedge fund manager seem to lend him the aura of someone who can be trusted in the face of harsh economic headwinds, further bolstered by his prescient warnings over Truss’ unfunded tax cuts.
His political career began with winning a safe Tory seat of Richmond in Yorkshire in 2015 and from junior roles in the Treasury he was suddenly catapulted to the post of Chancellor of Exchequer when his former boss, Sajid Javid, resigned in February 2020.