by Yuan Yi Zhu
Wednesday, 6
July 2022
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12:15

Why Nadhim Zahawi said yes

The new Chancellor is not the first figure in history to accept a likely temporary job
by Yuan Yi Zhu
Chancellor of the Exchequer Nadhim Zahawi stands outside the Treasury. Getty

Much surprise has been expressed at Nadhim Zahawi’s acceptance of the Chancellorship of the Exchequer at a time when the Johnson government’s prospects are generally judged to be dismal. Zahawi has a chance of becoming Prime Minster one day, the thinking goes, so why would he accept high office right now, thus risking his personal reputation, instead of waiting it out?

Of course, there are many reasons why Zahawi might have thought it was a good time to accept further preferment. He might not believe that the government is going to collapse any time soon, or he might have calculated that a spell in No. 11 would enhance his profile, and hence his chances of becoming Prime Minister. Or perhaps he remembered the old adage that the Tories dislike disloyalty above all else (a somewhat dubious dictum in light of the present happenings, but nevertheless).

A far simpler explanation is that he really really really wanted to be Chancellor. In politics many are called but few are chosen, and despite his generally good political prospects, Zahawi must have known that this might be his only chance to occupy the second highest office of the land. At the moderate age of 55, he might be offered high office again, but his political career might equally die off on the backbenches. Being the finance minister of a G7 country is something that can never be taken away from him.

Nor are politicians the only ones willing to abase themselves for a short stint of high office. In 1921, Lloyd George was looking for a seat warmer for the Lord Chief Justiceship, which he had promised to one of his cronies in a year’s time. Two geriatric judges, A. T. Lawrence and Charles Darling, competed for the dubious honour, knowing that it was their only chance to reach the top of their profession.

Darling, whose great distinction in life was the authorship of a volume of legal jokes, begged pathetically for the post — just “for a little time—even for ten minutes”, but was nevertheless passed over. Lawrence was duly appointed, though not before furnishing an undated letter of resignation. He learned of his retirement eleven months later, in a taxi to his courtroom whilst reading The Times. But he got the peerage which goes with the job, and his great-grandson is now a member of the House of Lords.

But not all such stories have a happy ending. The son of a Lord Chancellor, Charles Yorke had been destined for the highest offices of state since his birth. But he had promised his Whig friends that he would not serve under the Whig government of the Duke of Grafton (they were all Whigs in those days). Thus, when he was offered the lord chancellorship by Grafton, he was in some difficulty.

Tormented by the clash between his ambition and his loyalty, Yorke refused twice before being badgered into accepting by George III, who told him he would never get the job again if he refused. He accepted, but died three days later in great torment. Contemporary gossip held that he had killed himself out of shame, though a more trustworthy account points to indigestion after a big dinner.

Of course, not all politicians are so unscrupulous. The eighth Duke of Devonshire turned down the premiership not only once, not twice, but three times. The first time because Gladstone would not serve under him, the second and third times because he was waiting for Gladstone to die off, which he thought would help to preserve the union of Great Britain and Ireland. But when you are an eighth duke, knowing that there was a seventh duke before you and a ninth duke after you die, you can afford to take the longer view once, or even three times. Nadhim Zahawi and the rest of us will have to take our best shot when we get the chance.

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Ian Barton
Ian Barton
1 month ago

Zahawi has always struck me as a capable man, and if he wishes to be PM, the I think this move makes perfect sense.

Last edited 1 month ago by Ian Barton
Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
1 month ago
tom j
tom j
1 month ago

I once heard him at the launch of a new VC fund. He was pretty underwhelming (which probably validates your thesis). I can’t blame him for trading off his rags-to-riches story, as he did at the launch, but it would be nice if there was more than that to him. I’d rather be impressed at the speech and then be more impressed if I later learned about his background.

Richard Calhoun
Richard Calhoun
1 month ago

A huge mistake by Zahawi .. he should have been the first to follow Javid & Sunak

Steve Elliott
Steve Elliott
1 month ago

Whatever Zahawi’s motives are I’m glad we have someone reasonably competent in charge at the treasury at this time.

Albireo Double
Albireo Double
1 month ago

So, some questions for Mr Zahawi:
Did he vote to leave or remain in 2016?
Will he cancel HS2 and Net Zero?
Will he secure our energy supplies – THIS YEAR?
Does he understand that we cannot spend money that we don’t have?
And does he understand that we need to reduce the state by at least 50% (and by “the state” I mean MP’s and their chums in the civil service, and most of the public sector). ”