Most British analysts believe that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s time is up. Despite surviving several scandals, party gate has angered the British public. While the entire country was under strict lockdown on orders of the government during the first flush of the pandemic, the Prime Minister and his aides were living it up in 10, Downing Street. This is when the rest of the country was cooped up in their homes. Again, while Britain was in official mourning after Queen Elizabeth’s husband Prince Philip died, two parties took place, one a day ahead of the funeral.
While in many countries, this may seem like a minor transgression, the hypocrisy of the Prime Minister has riled the British public and there is a complete breakdown of trust. People want him out. He may not wiggle out of a tricky situation as he has done earlier. The Conservative Party is on the lookout for a leader to replace Johnson.
Among the front runners is Rishi Sunak, the current chancellor of the exchequer, foreign secretary Liz Truss, health secretary Sajid Javid, deputy prime minister Dominic Raab, secretary for levelling up Michael Gove and several other party's big wigs. Whether it will eventually come to that depends on how Boris Johnson and his team manage to work around party members and diffuse the crisis. It is hard to ask but in politics, no one can tell.
Leading the pack is Rishi Sunak, 41, often called "dishy Rishi" by the British tabloid press, for his suave appearance. Rishi Sunak is married to Akshata, daughter of Infosys co-founder Narayan Murthy, who he met while studying at Stanford. The couple married in Bangalore in 2009. They have two daughters.
His Indian connections go deeper than being the son-in-law of Narayan Murthy. His grandparents are from Punjab and like many Indians had migrated to seek a better life in East Africa. When trouble began in the region and there was widespread feeling against Indians, his grandfather shifted to Britain. This was in 1960. Sunak was born in Southampton. Yashvir, his father, is a doctor while Usha, his mother is a pharmacist. Rishi had an excellent education, attending Winchester, a prestigious public school after which he went to Oxford to study philosophy and economics in Oxford before heading for Stanford for a mandatory MBA degree in business and finance.
After completing his studies, Sunak became an investment banker and joined Goldman Sachs, then went on to Hedge Fund management. In 2010, he co-founded a large investment firm Theleme Partners and worked out of California for a couple of years and then moved back to the UK.
His rise in the party has been meteoric; becoming a member of Parliament in 2015 from a safe Conservative seat and within three years named as junior minister for local government in 2018. He was not Boris Johnson’s first choice for the chancellor’s job. But in 2020, when Pakistan-origin chancellor Sajid Javid resigned, thanks to the interference from the PM’s political aide Dominic Cummings, the vacancy was filled by Sunak.
The new chancellor won his spurs when he had to deal with the lockdown and economic plight of the people. Sunak became extremely popular by providing money in people’s pockets during the first spurt of the pandemic. His job retention scheme where the government paid 80 per cent of the wages of people who would otherwise be without a job won him accolades across the board. His popularity shot up and surpassed that of his boss Boris Johnson. His "eat out to help out’" scheme was also a huge success.
But currently, with inflation soaring, rising taxes announced in the autumn budget and an expected hike in energy rates by April, his popularity has taken a hit. He has also managed to distance himself from Boris Johnson’s party-gate and kept aloof from the PM's efforts to wriggle out of the situation.
He had been building his personal brand right since he took on his job as chancellor. He has a great social media presence. Yet as a relative newcomer to the Conservative party he does not have the kind of personal rapport with many of the backbenchers and the majority of oldtimers and Tory loyalists in the country.
Rishi Sunak may not replace Boris Johnson if he leaves in a couple of weeks, but he remains a star and a person to watch out for in future.