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Why Rishi Sunak will win The Chancellor makes his colleagues look like pygmies

Peloton-ed: Chancellor Rishi Sunak. Credit: Christopher Furlong/Getty


October 17, 2022   5 mins

Rishi Sunak seems destined to be an assassin. The Chancellor’s weapon is pointed, polished contrast. Where Boris is shambolic, Rishi is spruce. Boris looks necrotic, Rishi simply gleams. We know Boris is a rake; Rishi is fanatically uxorious. Boris is all appetites: embarrassingly lardy. But Rishi is all discipline, Peloton-ed every morning.

Then contrast with Parliament. In a political environment where wolfish libertinism still howls, we respect this teetotaller, this dignified religious conservative. In a party of culture warriors, we are calmed by his refusal to join the fracas for easy Telegraph headlines. And in a Commons jammed with fumbling innumerates, we are gratefully relieved that a true numbers guy holds the national purse.

Solely by standing near them in photographs, Sunak makes his boss and his colleagues look, to varying degrees, stupid, crass, cadaverous, and morally dubious. Is all this calculated? Perhaps at first these contrasts were an accident of juxtaposition. Now they look like the willed creation of many hands.

A decade before today’s budget, Sunak was just another bored, wealthy, socially ambitious banker, most notable for marrying very well to a woman who is richer than the Queen. Today he is the most popular politician in the country. The press amplifies these common feelings. From Left to Right Sunak is imaginatively described as “genial”, “genial”, “genial”, and “nice”. In Lord Ashcroft’s sunny, flaccid Sunak biography, our protagonist is a schoolboy who never received detentions, a hedge fund partner who never screwed anyone over (or even made a bad bet), and a politician without enemies. How is that possible?

Sunak benefits from the hatred the press feels for Boris Johnson. Journalists direct their ire at the personality most gratingly reminiscent of their own, not the financier who thinks in excel spreadsheets, rather than headlines. The median pundit does not really know too much about spreadsheets, or what to do with Sunak, so they call him “genial” instead. As a result, the Chancellor is the recipient of puff pieces rather than asperities. Even the London Review of Books ends up defending him from clumsy Labour Party attacks, on racial grounds.

But Sunak also lacks obvious wounds for journalists to poke around in. Great wealth smoothed out any neuroticisms he had. They have nothing to claw at — for what is “genial” if not a synonym for boring? He is clam-tight, physically and mentally compact; he gives so little away. The only genuine insecurity would seem to be his height (a pocketable 5’ 7”); hence the suits carefully tailored to elongate and broaden him, and the choreographed posts on his Instagram where he stands tall, and the persistent rumours that Team Rishi genially emails social media users to delete comments that draw attention to any of this. What are his views on crime? On prisons? On education? We don’t know. Maybe he doesn’t either. In interviews he ducks behind bromides (“Being a parent is
 hard”; Being in an office as a young banker was “really beneficial to me”) and references to popular culture. When the inevitable leadership question is raised he goes all chummy, all village fĂȘte, and says Oh Golly, Oh Gosh! Rhetoric that makes Johnson’s 2013 blather of balls and scrums sound comparatively Churchillian.

Race, potentially so explosive, is not really part of the conversation around the Chancellor. But the ghostly embarrassments, triumphs, and crimes of the Empire in both the subcontinent and Africa are bound up in his family story. Generations of dislocation and exile — with all their potential traumas — are repackaged, in Ashcroft’s book at least, into a saga of strivers and self-starters who walked in the Raj so Rishi could run in Westminster.

One early foray into politics, leading a Policy Exchange unit researching ethnic minority attitudes, was technically about race. The resulting report was thoughtful enough, though it reveals the ambition of an apparatchik more interested in the present and the future than the past. If Sunak’s research had a message for Conservatives, it was to emphasise a civic British identity that ethnic minority groups already felt comfortable with. (The party had been doing this since at least 1983.) In 2015, he laughed off the antique chit-chat of Wensleydale farmers who fretted about his “tan” when he was parachuted into William Hague’s old constituency of Richmond, North Yorks. The overall impression is of a man who has given approximately ten seconds of thought to questions of personal identity. And this in an era when identity is the inexhaustible social, political, and personal question among the over-educated. Sunak, comfortably warming his hands above the culture war inferno, will seem like a relief from it when he becomes Prime Minister.

If Sunak were born ten years later, he may have been more agitated by these questions. As an elder millennial (b.1980), he moved into industry when ideological agonies appeared to belong to the past. Goldman, followed by Stanford, followed by hedge funds. In the noughties, Sunak was another footsoldier of the Davos consensus. Why weep over Frantz Fanon in the library when there is money to be made? Why be outraged and indignant when you can be charming and suave? That was the way the brightest and the best of Sunak’s generation saw things, as they rolled into financial services en masse, pre-Crash.

Aspiration, not victimhood, is what Sunak claims to have learned from his family. It was his grandmother who sold her wedding jewellery to come to Britain in the Sixties. It was by the tills in his mother’s pharmacy that he learned about National Insurance and VAT. It was his parents who economised enough to send him to storied Winchester College. There, in 1997 — the apotheosis of social democratic rebelliousness in modern Britain — Sunak was a teenage Tory lamenting Tony Blair’s landslide in the pages of the school magazine. And what irritated the young Sunak more than anything else about New Labour were its plans to enter the United Kingdom into an “eventual European Superstate.” Not only a teenage Tory; a committed teenage Eurosceptic too. Was there a smaller minority of feeling in 1997? It’s unlikely.

Here is the ideological core of Sunak. He was, is, and always will be a “people must look after themselves first” Thatcherite. A believer in common sense, not theory. Hard work, achievement, tax cuts. William Hague might describe him as a “modern non-ideological conservative”, but the modern party speaks the language of intervention; many of its new voters are suspicious of globalisation and the City. So Sunak is old fashioned. It was Nigel Lawson who he consulted first when he became Chancellor. And it is a portrait of Nigel Lawson that hangs behind Sunak’s desk in No.11.

Here is the great irony of the Chancellor’s career to date. The Thatcherite who spewed £192bn on the public during the pandemic. He has the calculator-gambler soul of an axe man, and ends up with a public image close to Marcus Rashford’s. Scrooge is mistaken for Father Christmas. All the imagery — there is Rishi for the nerds, a Rishi for the boozers, a Rishi for the horny journalists, and a Rishi for the bumpkins — has been adroitly manipulated by his advisor and social media guru ‘Cass’ Horowitz. The Chancellor wouldn’t hurt a fly — unless it were relying on Universal Credit.

His horizon appears gorgeously cloudless. The joint No. 10-Treasury economic unit set up by Dominic Cummings to shackle the Chancellor in 2020 is now entirely at his command. His team expands all the time. The genuine Eurosceptic never bloodied his hands during the Theresa May years. He winked at lockdown sceptic MPs, flattering them without ever giving them public backing. Sunak has won several battles now without fighting. “Ascendancy” is the word used to describe No.11’s relationship with the Johnson team. It is easy to imagine him saying one day, as George Osborne did to friends after Cameron became leader in 2005, “I can’t believe how easily we have taken over the party.”

Today’s budget will disguise his instincts. His Thatcherism would go further, quicker, were he ever in charge. Tory donors would be delighted by it. Her Manchester liberalism was pliable, part-entertainment. His looks creedal, and well-practised from his years in business. Public opinion spurned her. It salutes Rishi. He is The Man Who Invented Furlough, The Eat Out to Help Out Bloke. ÂŁ192bn disarms complaints present and future. 


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Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago

Sunak’s numerate money-man image will make him a plausible change from Boris when the latter steps down (or is pushed), which will look and feel like freshness and renewal without any need for a change of governing party.
Whether this is calculated or not I couldn’t say, but the issue for him in winning a leadership election is that he is not the only candidate who can deliver this trick for the Tories.
The latter will take equally great and malicious pleasure in electing someone like Liz Truss to become their third female leader, while Labour has never had one, or Kemi Badenoch as their first black and third female leader – and so on.
The Tories will do this because what better way to twit the party of identity politics than to rub its nose in diversity? By handing out seats expressly to people of negligible talent solely because they tick a sex or race quota box, Labour has ensured that all its own women and minorities are utterly gormless abject nobodies. So they’ve got David Lammy and Diane Abbott, who could not run a bath, while the Tories have Kwarteng and Badenoch and Sunak, who could. In its heart of hearts Labour knows this, and keeps electing selectively-educated middle-class white males to the leadership in consequence, whatever the election mechanism.
Like Hague in 1997 and IDS after 2001, but much worse, the problem Starmer has is not having enough MPs from whom to select a plausible team. The unemployable quota nonentities, anti-Semites and Marxist sociopaths who make up much of the PLP leave him with a desperately small front bench pool of credible and thoughtful people – a pool of roughly one, actually. The delicious irony is that Labour’s problem is as bad as it is not in spite of a lack of diversity, but exactly because of it. If you appoint people because they’re black or female, even though they are manifestly stupid, you end up with the PLP.

Last edited 2 years ago by Jon Redman
Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Kemi Badenoch, Sunak and co are stars and got where they are on merit. They’re smart, patriotic, aspirational and articulate. Only conservatives seem to recognise merit rather than the arbitrary things like race that Labour are obsessed by.

Paul Scannell
Paul Scannell
2 years ago
Reply to  Cheryl Jones

You’re not supposed to say articulate anymore.

Jonathan Story
Jonathan Story
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul Scannell

I am all for a race free UK, which gives a finger to the new racists of critical race theory. This is in the direct line of the empire which was a multiracial empire.

Nick Wright
Nick Wright
2 years ago

Here is the ideological core of Sunak. He was, is, and always will be a “people must look after themselves first” Thatcherite. A believer in common sense, not theory. Hard work, achievement, tax cuts.

I recognise there is irony sprinkled in this article, but this assertion seems genuine. On what evidence can this claim be made? We’ve seen £68 billion spent on paying people not to work; fraudsters have had field days with the various schemes Sunak hurriedly put in; national insurance has been increased to pay for the highly inefficient and largely ineffective NHS. When will those of us who have worked hard to generate the revenues Sunak is spending see our rewards? Judge a man by his actions, not his words (or carefully curated veneer).

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
2 years ago
Reply to  Nick Wright

If the state instructs people not to work, or compulsorily closes down businesses, it does kind of have an obligation to fund them!

Andrew Lale
Andrew Lale
2 years ago

So did Tony Blair. And look what he did to the country. Apart from gutting the constitution, starting a completely unnecessary war and filling the country up with foreigners, Blair was great.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Lale

I voted for Blair twice. And feel an eternal shame for my youthful blindness.

Anglica Bee
Anglica Bee
2 years ago

“ÂŁ192bn disarms complaints present and future”?! Only those who think that there really is a magic money tree and are unworried by Sunak’s complete lack of a coherent plan to balance the books are disarmed by his profligacy. Most voters know that any fool can spend other people’s money and that they will be the ones who will have to repay it. Mr Lloyd seems to be in thrall to Sunak’s PR-generated image – to the detriment of his critical faculties.

Last edited 2 years ago by Anglica Bee
Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
2 years ago
Reply to  Anglica Bee

Most voters are hypocrites, including the people on here who rage about government spending until it comes to protecting their inheritances! Perhaps ‘hypocrites’ is too strong a word, but it is very easy to say you support government making cuts, up until the point they affect you, then the cuts should be made somewhere else.

chris sullivan
chris sullivan
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

Agreed. In NZ 11 years ago voters were, in effect, asked to vote for policies that would narrow the gap between haves and have nots – and guess how that turned out ! you are correct- when push comes to shove financial improvement trumps most people’s ethical/moral motivations. So basically we have not moved past dog-eat-dog – and we also know that if have- nots make it into “have” land they will probably start voting for themselves as well. It is a paucity of genuine spirituality issue, not an economical issue cos there is plenty to go around. All the rest is just surface babble including much of what smart concerned people have to say about “it’. Another 1000 years of human development maybe things will be better – in the meantime I am going sailing !!

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago
Reply to  chris sullivan

and you are burdened with the ghastly wide mouthed beaver…

William Cameron
William Cameron
2 years ago

Numerate people in Parliament are in very short supply. Numerate people who understand finance are in even shorter supply. Sunak does both. He is also polite which is another scarce commodity in public life. The sooner he is PM the better. Boris has been PM . He has got the T shirt . And he wants to go back to earning money . So there is not animus like there was between Brown and Blair.
And having a BAME PM will shut up the BLM mob and the Woke left.

Last edited 2 years ago by William Cameron
Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
2 years ago

It won’t shut them up, anymore than having two women PMs did.
They hate a BAME Tory far more than they would a white one.

Albireo Double
Albireo Double
2 years ago

No I think it won’t shut them up. He’s the “wrong sort of BAME”.
And even if it does take the wind out of their sails, they’ll just go and glue themselves to roads instead – because it never was about black people, or the environment – it’s all about left wing extremists disrupting the country.

Antony Hirst
Antony Hirst
2 years ago

He ain’t black!

NCFC Paul
NCFC Paul
2 years ago

Reading this article I keep thinking of why the Conservatives picked Boris in the first place. Theresa May’s government was collapsing and the Tories were staring defeat to Jeremy Corbyn in the eye. Boris is not loved by the political class, but an 80 seat majority shows that he can win elections.

For Rishi Sunak he may be a very different character but it is also the case that being the number 2 is a very different job to leading. Theresa May, so effective as home secretary can attest to that. Not only that but as the article points out, he hasn’t really been put under pressure.

Sunak is also not the only potential Tory leader. Dominic Raab has fallen away but Liz Truss is able to point to her great success in building trade links post Brexit. She may very well be able to mount a campaign based around her foreign competence at a time when the country does need to build bridges.

Finally, Keir Starter is a very different Labour leader to Jeremy Corbyn. I suspect any candidate for the Tory leadership will have to bide their time. I fully expect the next election will be between Johnson and Starter. If Boris delivers another decent victory even after COVID and all the challenges it brings, I can see him leading the country for as long as he wishes.

A fun article, but ultimately I fail to see the point other than a Rishi puff piece, he really must have a good PR team!

alan Osband
alan Osband
2 years ago
Reply to  NCFC Paul

‘Public opinion spurned her ( Mrs Thatcher ) it salutes him ‘
So how did Mrs Thatcher win three elections ? She was hugely popular .
And it’s far from being a ‘Rishi puff piece’ He clearly hates ‘Thatcherite’Rishi .
Says he wouldn’t hurt a fly unless it was dependent on social credit .

Last edited 2 years ago by alan Osband
Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  NCFC Paul

Maybe the strength of this Tory party is its diversity. Boris’s bombast and (I think) good political instincts, Sunak’s calm demeanour and eye for detail, Truss’s pragmatism, Gove’s intellectualism etc. Sunak, Badenoch, Kwarteng, Javid, Patel all there on merit and I feel with a distinct lack of the tokenism that Labour are so obsessed by. Plus some vocal backbenchers who challenge their own party which in my eyes is a strength not a weakness. Anyone who dissents in the Labour ranks like Rosie Duffield – well that’s the difference isn’t it. Boris doesn’t need to be everything, know everything, do everything, he has a team around him who can. In the world of L&D, which is my background, this would be considered a strong leadership behaviour!

Jem Barnett
Jem Barnett
2 years ago
Reply to  NCFC Paul

Theresa May, so effective as home secretary

I genuinely can’t tell if this is sarcasm or not?

Ibn Sina
Ibn Sina
1 year ago
Reply to  Jem Barnett

The Civil Servants there liked her because she did as she was told to by them.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
2 years ago

He could always optimise the height perception by standing next to 5’4″ Sadiq Khan at every opportunity.

Albireo Double
Albireo Double
2 years ago

A Thatcherite? The man’s been spending like a drunken sailor ever since he came to office.
And whatever people say, most of that spending has been pretty conclusively shown to have been both unnecessary, and unhelpful for the country – by robbing our workforce of their backbone.

Last edited 2 years ago by Albireo Double
Allie McBeth
Allie McBeth
2 years ago
Reply to  Albireo Double

I’m actually convinced that it was the spending by Sunak that prevented mass disobedience by the population during Covid peak. He gave us bread, if not circuses.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  Allie McBeth

I totally agree. Everyone i know, including Labour voters, thinks the furlough scheme saved the country from mass civil unrest and economic meltdown. It went against his small govt low spend instincts – and he did it anyway because it was the right thing to do. Boris the same – I consistently felt he absolutely did not want to lockdown. But he did because he took advice from the experts and the situation was unprecedented. I respect that.

Tom Watson
Tom Watson
2 years ago

“Sunak, comfortably warming his hands above the culture war inferno, will seem like a relief from it when he becomes Prime Minister.”

Good point. Can’t wait. Hope he gets in in time for 2024 so we can rebuild a shared sense of Britishness around breaking out the popcorn while we watch the Americans tear themselves apart over stuff we can tell ourselves we’ve fixed by pointing to him.

Samuel Gee
Samuel Gee
2 years ago

If everything in this article is true about his careful curation, political skills, social skills, communication skills, public appeal, lack of personal angst and his fanatical uxoriousness (I had to look that one up). Then fair play. He deserves to be PM and will probably be very good at it.

alan Osband
alan Osband
2 years ago
Reply to  Samuel Gee

As the song says ‘if her daddy’s rich take her out for a meal , if her daddy’s poor …….’
But ‘fanatical uxoriousness’ here seems to mean having no known mistresses ??

Last edited 2 years ago by alan Osband
Samuel Gee
Samuel Gee
2 years ago
Reply to  alan Osband

Or, no mistresses. As we like to say round these parts when we aren’t implying something we have no evidence for.

alan Osband
alan Osband
2 years ago
Reply to  Samuel Gee

Wasn’t implying anything of that kind . Not being with him 24 /7 I have no knowledge one way or the other . He seems a very ‘suitable boy’ , but it seems a bit much to describe him as fanatically uxorious on the available evidence.
Using the trope of fanaticism with regard to an Asian puts Will Lloyd at risk of being accused of unconscious racism anyway .

Last edited 2 years ago by alan Osband
Simon Hodgson
Simon Hodgson
2 years ago

Not exactly difficult to make colleagues in the present cabinet look like political pygmies.
This is not sufficient to recommend Sunak as replacement for BJ when that day come.

Chris Clark
Chris Clark
2 years ago

“comfortably warming his hands above the culture war inferno”
Beautiful writing, very much appreciated.

Antony Hirst
Antony Hirst
2 years ago

Where Boris is witty, sophisticated, charming, educated, erudite and effing useless. Trump is coarse, crude, unfunny, a walking meme and utterly effective. Whilst Rishi is just a cardboard cutout who dreams of being the first politician to make MMT work or kill us all trying.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  Antony Hirst

Boris has built a team around him that has true diversity, he won an 80 seat majority to get Brexit done and got it done despite the most outrageous shenanigans by Remainers and the EU winding down the clock and setting rules of the game designed to see it fail. He has good political instincts and knows how to connect with people – never underestimate the power of that. Covid and Brexit together are 2 unprecedented events, at the same time. I really don’t think he’s done that badly. My only wish was that he communicated intentions and reasons more clearly and wasn’t so desperate to be liked. That’s his real downfall I think.

Antony Hirst
Antony Hirst
2 years ago
Reply to  Cheryl Jones

Every event is unprecedented. Every leader has to deal with it. They might choose to deal with such events through cautious bravery, prioritising peoples ability to manage their own affairs, make their own decisions by properly understanding the issue at hand. Or they could bullshit their way through it, react to international and Twitter pressure, pretend that silver bullets exist and salvation is just around the corner, enrich their buddies and give themselves powers to whitewash over any issues and use the so-called ‘scientists’ to scare the bejeezus out of any fool who’ll listen.
Anybody can look back at the events and wonder if they are lah lah land. The handling of COVID has been absolutely extraordinary, and not in a good way.

Jake Prior
Jake Prior
2 years ago

Good to hear a positive article about a politician. Despite the barbs, it must be remembered that Boris promoted him from relative obscurity to No2. The eco-bluster is more than a little disconcerting, but I’m inclined to think Boris has shown as good judgement as you could hope for from a PM. I suspect Rishi Sunak is canny enough to see this and will maintain a hold at No11 for a long time while Boris takes the helm as long as things stay within striking distance of the track. Lordy I’m coming over all patriotic, better get stuck into my Frankfurter and Bordeaux before I sail my topper to Jersey to give those Frenchies what for.

Rob Britton
Rob Britton
2 years ago

I had to laugh when Boris Johnson was described as “necrotic” and “lardy”. Rishi Sunak has spent the last two years doling out the dosh, so of course he is going to be popular. However, it is a rule of politics that the natural successor never succeeds – at least as far as the Tory party is concerned.

Last edited 2 years ago by Rob Britton
Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago

If the spending goes against Sunak’s Thatcherite small govt low tax instincts I imagine he wouldn’t do it unless he felt he had to. To reject the language of victimhood and go against the grain of his fellow millennials by not embracing globalism, EU supranationalism and identity politics – to me these are the marks of a smart person.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
2 years ago

Sunak on the whole has so far done popular things, like spending vast sums of money on a furlough scheme that was necessary but over extended. As far as I am concerned, he is much more impressive than Johnson, but that is quite a low bar!

Zorro Tomorrow
Zorro Tomorrow
2 years ago

If he’s that popular he’d better watch out for the knives being sharpened. He’s doomed.

Colin M
Colin M
2 years ago

Anyone that describes the public sector in the UK as “world class” and holds up a green briefcase for a photo op at COP 26 shouldn’t become prime minister IMHO.

Last edited 2 years ago by Colin M
Jacques Rossat
Jacques Rossat
2 years ago

In other word, a political Roger Federer.

Last edited 2 years ago by Jacques Rossat
Dan Gleeballs
Dan Gleeballs
2 years ago

“Why Rishi Sunak will Win” – I’m filing this with the James Kirkup piece “Why David Gauke is the future of the Conservative Party.”

Last edited 2 years ago by Dan Gleeballs
Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

But his rivals ARE pygmies… actually that is rather an insult to the tribe…

Maureen Finucane
Maureen Finucane
1 year ago

Everything that Conservatives should admire – a self made man whose parents worked hard to give him a good education. Instead, the Shire Tories preferred Boris and voted for the walking disaster Truss.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

Shire Tories? no… heome ceounties toylittories… never hunted the shires to hounds in their miserable, automaton, commuting, box ticking,out-tray filling, acetate clad, pointy shod, lodge attending golf club ruled pond lives…

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

Hear hear!!

Stoater D
Stoater D
1 year ago

Oh, dear.

Stoater D
Stoater D
1 year ago

Sunak’s loyalty is not towards Britain or the British people but towards the Globalists
of the WEF and the UN.
The same is true of Boris Johnson and his
foolish, highly damaging and pointless
commitment to Net Zero.
The the current chancellor is an avid fan
of the Chinese Communist Party.
Why would anyone vote Conservative ?