by Miriam Cates
Thursday, 27
October 2022
Debate
07:00

The populist case for Rishi Sunak

The new PM is neither a globalist stooge nor a socialist
by Miriam Cates
Rishi Sunak is in tune with the values of Red Wall voters. Credit: Getty

“It is incumbent on the government to support people, especially those unable to support themselves, and through the welfare state, public services and education.”

So said a famous British politician, but who? Perhaps someone who believes it is the duty of the state to redistribute wealth? How about this:

“There’s a reason we talk about the importance of family, community…because they are more important than the market or the state.”

These aren’t the words of a libertarian free-marketeer or GDP-obsessed think tanker. They are more likely the views of a communitarian like my friend Danny Kruger MP. Or this:

“Every year thousands and thousands of people come into the UK illegally.… it makes a mockery of our system and it must stop.”

Could that be Nigel Farage or perhaps Priti Patel? 

In fact, all these statements belong to just one person — our new Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak. Yes, the man who has been painted by the Right as a socialist and the Left as ‘Davos man’ and a globalist stooge does not conform to these stereotypes. 

Sunak is the heir of neither Blair nor Cameron; he is instead a much more nuanced politician who is far more in tune with the populist realignment — and therefore with the views of ordinary voters and popular opinion — than many commentators assume. And the political reality is that Sunak will have to lean into this realignment because it is the only way that the Conservative Party can avoid wipe-out at the next general election.

The Brexit referendum in 2016, and Conservative ‘Red Wall’ victories in 2017 and 2019, were a reaction to the failures of the political and economic system of the last 30 years. For decades, successive governments in Westminster and Brussels exalted London and ignored the regions, accepted staggering levels of low-skilled immigration, favoured graduates while manufacturing jobs declined, and collaborated in an assault on British culture by the illiberal Left.

This is why many MPs and party members last weekend sought the return of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister; he was, after all, a leader uniquely associated with Brexit and the realignment. Many fear that without Boris, the movement is over. But although Johnson remains an important figurehead with distinctive voter appeal, little progress was made in key areas during his premiership. Immigration hit its highest levels on record, the university classes continued to dominate, and there was very little pushback on the radical Left-wing progressivism that has captured our major institutions. 

So can Rishi Sunak take up the mantle?

Our new Prime Minister is clearly not Boris 2.0. Sunak cannot position himself as the anti-establishment underdog, and he has not had a career as a journalist with a platform to promote his views on a wide range of topics. In fact, as Chancellor during a global pandemic, Sunak’s freedom to speak on anything other than the economy was tightly constrained. But on the main axes of economics, society and culture, I believe there is evidence to suggest Sunak may be well placed to take on the baton.

On economics, where many 2019 Conservative voters lean to the Left, Sunak’s financial support schemes — like furlough and a universal credit uplift — were always aimed at those on the lowest incomes first. While Conservative MPs frequently call for lower taxes, the more popular position in the country is for fairer taxes and well-funded public services. Sunak was criticised by some for presiding over tax rises, but his refusal to debt-fund social care reforms (and the subsequent National Insurance increase) aligns closely with the values of Red Wall voters. 

On society, Sunak has indicated that he believes passionately in the value of strong families, community and nation. Despite fiscal pressures, he found £500m in the October 2021 Budget for the Start for Life programme to improve support for families with young children. On community, Sunak delivered Towns Funds, Levelling Up funds, Community Ownership Funds and countless local infrastructure projects during his time as Chancellor. And on national identity, he has sent a clear signal that he will be tough on immigration, with the reappointment of the uncompromising Suella Braverman as Home Secretary.

Finally on culture, we can assume that Sunak, a family man with Hindu faith and Indian heritage, is sympathetic to traditional values. But is he willing to publicly take on the battles that must be fought against ideologies that seek to denigrate British history and stoke division? I have no expectation that Sunak is going to be a vocal culture warrior (neither was Boris), but again we have clues that he at least understands the salience of these issues to voters. This summer he said:

The worst offender in this regard is the 2010 Equality Act, conceived in the dog days of the last Labour government …it has been a Trojan horse that has allowed every kind of woke nonsense to permeate public life [and] it must stop
- Rishi Sunak

The inclusion of Kemi Badenoch in his cabinet, a politician who not only understands the importance of these issues but has the courage to take them on, is a good start. 

The demands of the realignment are still there. High streets and bus services are still in decline, family breakdown is rising, and inflation is exacerbating inequality. The events in Cambridge this week reveal the shocking potential of illiberal radical progressivism. If Conservatives under Rishi Sunak don’t meet those demands we will not win (or deserve to win) the next election and there may well be a resurgence of another party of the Right.

Join the discussion


To join the discussion, get the free daily email and read more articles like this, sign up.

It's simple, quick and free.

Sign me up
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
23 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
polidori redux
polidori redux
1 month ago

I see a pattern here. Every time the Tory Party declares a new leader some treat it as the coming of the new saviour. I can have sympathy with the hope, but it is misplaced: We will simply be subjected to more of the same. Kemi Badenoch will achieve nothing, because the broad mass of Tory MPs sitting in Parliament today are the same vacuous metropolitan liberals who sat in Parliament last week, and the week before that.

Last edited 1 month ago by polidori redux
Albireo Double
Albireo Double
1 month ago
Reply to  polidori redux

Yup, I agree – It’s hard not to feel this way.

Walter Marvell
Walter Marvell
1 month ago
Reply to  polidori redux

Well the final quote demonstrates that Sunak has identified the Wuhan Lab for Wokery; the Equality Act of 2010 which as a virus has mutated wildly abd now validates Critical Race Theory. Thats right – the contagion has been apread by our State Law. So now Rishi – go sort this out. Amend and update it as part of a modern humane Great Reform Act which is fair to all, but trounces on the multiple abuses of the Leftist Human Rights legislation, notably the bogus asylum criminal conspiracy on our borders.

Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
1 month ago

My first feeling, when I heard Rishi would be PM was concern for him – what a huge responsibility to take on. He comes into the job at the tail end of a government, with a rotten budgetary situation and a very precarious world, with … a divided, demoralised party.

We know he is smart and hard-working, serious, and I sense, a decent sort of man. As far as I know he doesn’t come trailing mistresses and an unknown number of children. If I were in Britain I’d be hopeful. Boris was hopeless and Truss was a wrong turn. Rishi won’t be able to please everyone, but at least a suitable person is back in No. 10.

Will Crozier
Will Crozier
1 month ago

Well said! Very rare to see such optimism in Unherd comments.
Boris was incredibly likeable, and I didn’t doubt his patriotism. I didn’t like the way the media and chattering classes went after him for partygate etc, or the way he was ultimately ousted… However, the final analysis seems to reveal that Boris was a hopeless weakling with no principles or plans beyond “getting Brexit done”. Liz Truss had even less conviction that Boris and was in well over her head from minute one. I have nothing against her personally but what a shameful embarrassment for the Tories and their members to allow someone so incompetent to rise to leader. And breathe.
I’m inclined to give Rishi a chance seeing as he’s only just started. Who knows, maybe he was part of the WEF young leaders as a dissident mole? Feel free to lambast me for such hopeless optimism but let’s give him a few weeks before we all completely lose our minds.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 month ago
Reply to  Will Crozier

Likeable?… A liar, charlatan, back sliding , selfish, dishonest, , innumerate, lazy narcissist, driven by some very odd inadequacies: Do you know anyone who was at Eton and Oxford with him?… ask them, or his past bosses, like Max Hastings..?

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
1 month ago

My thoughts exactly; nice to agree with you about something.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 month ago

My honour, pleasure and privelige!

D Glover
D Glover
1 month ago

.

Last edited 1 month ago by D Glover
Arnold Grutt
Arnold Grutt
1 month ago

“Rishi won’t be able to please everyone, but at least a suitable person is back in No. 10.”

He seems to me to be that old-fashioned sort of person for whom ‘worldly success’ equals ‘goodness’, an equation that would have been rejected by most philosophers of the past, though it is believed by many, especially non-British, people.
Protestants are always typed as believing such things (i.e. they know they are ‘elect’ because of worldly thriving and being supposedly the recipients of of God’s favour. But this is false. For them salvation or damnation is decided by God at the point of death, not before. This belief in fact conduces to a certain practical modesty, whatever else one thinks about Protestantism).

Last edited 1 month ago by Arnold Grutt
chris Barton
chris Barton
1 month ago

Not a globalist stooge he’s just invited to the parties? He is/was a young WEF Global leader same as Marcon and JT in Canada but sure he’s not a globalist. His father in law owns a company that is pushing for digital ID/social credit system – big part of the “Great Reset”. Take the blinkers off.

Jason Plessas
Jason Plessas
1 month ago
Reply to  chris Barton
Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 month ago

Sunak is Arguably the most well educated, most highly qualified and work experienced leader anywhere in the world now, who does not need the job for its pay.

Arnold Grutt
Arnold Grutt
1 month ago

I get very fidgety with all this talk about ‘Leaders’ (presumably of the rest of us). In fact the only thing a Prime Minister leads is his government and party. And it is not a ‘job’, but an ‘office’ of the Crown. His ultimate responsibility is to the British Constitution and the Monarch, not the electorate.

Last edited 1 month ago by Arnold Grutt
Albireo Double
Albireo Double
1 month ago

Sunak is starting to at least become interesting. He does seem to vaguely understand what he needs to do. Can he do it…?

For me’ he’ll have to stop all illegal entries and more than halve legal migration. He could do all this – but will he? All his predecessors have managed between them is to determinedly turn the nation’s “immigration policy” into a gigantic, sick, piss-take against their own voters.

So whatever else I want to see from him, to get me back as a voter, he’ll need to do this – just to show me that he even understands what he is there for. It’s called “national security”.

Tom Watson
Tom Watson
1 month ago

Stooge or not, his complexion should at least moderate the impulse our journalist class will feel to drag us screaming into the vortex that America will open up in 2024 over ‘racism,’ like they did in 2020. So he gets one cheer from me at least.

Jacqueline Burns
Jacqueline Burns
1 month ago

We shall see if these were just words or if they transmute to actions.

R Wright
R Wright
1 month ago

An entire article full of well-reasoned, but still likely to be futile, cope. It will take a great deal of work by Mr Sunak to convince me that; 1) as a rich man he will be willing to properly tackle socially-corrosive inequality, 2) as an ethnic minority he will be willing to properly tackle immigration and 3) as a modern day ‘conservative’ he will be willing to properly tackle the collapse in British morality. Call me a cynic, but it appears to me that in order to reach the top of British politics you have to be a man of words, not a man of action.

Iris C
Iris C
1 month ago
Reply to  R Wright

(1) You would seem to suggest that only those on minimum incomes could understand and act on “socially-corrosive inequality”. That has no foundation in fact.
(2) Ethnic minorities come in all shapes and sizes and their views on how to tackle immigration will be equally diverse.
(3) It would be good if the PM could tackle immorality (but unrealistic) because the increase in mental disturbance among many youngsters today is due to lack of stability in the home and the abandonment of the moral values we were taught by example..

D Glover
D Glover
1 month ago

On Sunak’s Wikipedia page we see this;

Sunak worked as an analyst for the investment bank Goldman Sachs between 2001 and 2004.He then worked for hedge fund management firm the Children’s Investment Fund Management, becoming a partner in September 2006. He left in November 2009 to join former colleagues in California at a new hedge fund firm, Theleme Partners, which launched in October 2010 with $700 million under management.

But on the BBC website today we read this;

After graduating, Mr Sunak took a lucrative job at the London-based hedge fund, TCI Fund Management.Mr Sunak focused on the US, participating in the firm’s bitter 2008 fight with the leaders of America’s CSX freight railroad.

The BBC account misses out his three years with Goldman Sachs, and the first hedge fund. It makes the jump from MBA at Stanford to TCI. Is this deliberate whitewashing?

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
1 month ago

Sunak’s potential vulnerability is the economy, especially if there is a substantial fall in house prices. The last Labour Government is too long ago for anyone but the Tories to take full blame. Just as Sterling’s fall out of the ERM in 1992 led to Blair winning in 1997 and the 2008 financial crisis led to Brown’s defeat in 2010, an economic crisis between now and 2024 will lead to a Labour Government.

Arnold Grutt
Arnold Grutt
1 month ago

How often do I have to point out that the UK is not, and has never been a ‘nation’. What any politician in this country should support is the Kingdom, in which bogus ideas of ethnically cohesive ‘nations’ are ignored or rejected, and constitutional protections take 1st place.

Last edited 1 month ago by Arnold Grutt
Dylan Regan
Dylan Regan
1 month ago

Wake up lad, you’re deluding yourself