Rishi Raj in UK

Sharda Lal
Like millions in the country, we too had expected Rishi Sunak, 42, one of the wealthiest politicians in Westminster and also the country’s youngest leader in modern times, to be elected as the Prime Minister of United Kingdom. Boris Johnson had earlier resigned from the post on July 7 this year, pending a Conservative Party leadership election by autumn 2022.
In the elections, Rishi Sunak was leading over his rival candidates in the ruling Conservative Party till the last rounds of voting, but Liz Truss emerged the winner in the final rounds to head the Government of UK from September 6 onwards. The expectations turned true as the subsequent events unfolded.
Liz Truss lasted in the PM office of Great Britain for just over six weeks, 44 days to be precise, before she too was forced out. Her downfall was triggered by a recent Mini Budget, which pushed up borrowing costs and mortgage rates, and sent investors fleeing.
After Liz Truss announced her resignation as Conservative Party leader on 20 October 2022, Johnson sought support from MPs to run in the subsequent leadership election, and received support from several cabinet members, but only three days later, he announced that he would not stand, stating that he would not have enough support from MPs to govern effectively.
Penny Mordaunt, the other contesting British Conservative MP, lost out to Sunak in the race for premiership. After the victory of Sunak who won the public support of almost 200 of his Conservative MP colleagues, Mordaunt said, ”Election (of Rishi Sunak) was historic one and shows, once again, the diversity and talent of our party.” She said, “Rishi has my full support.”
Rishi Sunak has been appointed Prime Minister by King Charles on October 25, 2022, Tuesday, and replaces Liz Truss. He was told by the King to form the Government first before taking over the power. His immediate task is to restore stability to a country reeling from years of political and economic turmoil. He takes over during one of the most turbulent eras in British political history and will have to show mettle to lead a party that has fractured along ideological lines.
As the UK faces a “profound economic challenge” Rishi Sunak will have to steer a deeply divided country through an economic down-turn, set to leave millions of people poorer. The toughest downturn in decades has hit the country by surging cost of energy and food.
Reuters says, “Britain has been locked in a state of perma-crisis ever since it voted in 2016 to leave the European Union, unleashing a battle at Westminster over the future of the country that remains unresolved to this day. Johnson, the face of the Brexit vote, led his party to a landslide victory in 2019, only to be driven out of office less than three years later after a series of scandals.”
Rishi Sunak told his lawmakers in parliament on October 24, that they faced an “existential crisis” and must “unite or die”. Sunak has used his first speech as Prime Minister on October 25 to warn that the UK is in the grip of an “economic crisis” as he vowed to fix “mistakes” made by Liz Truss and win back voters’ trust. Addressing the nation on Tuesday, Sunak warned there would be “difficult decisions to come” in an attempt to regain economic stability and avoid mass borrowing mounting up.
Economists and investors have welcomed Sunak’s appointment, but questioned whether he can tackle the country’s finances while simultaneously holding the party’s warring factions together. Sunak had challenged Truss this summer in race of Prime Minister but lost to her in a vote of the party’s rank-and-file members.
Zhao Junjie, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences’ Institute of European Studies, told the Global Times, describing this pattern has made the UK politics more “dramatic” than “late night TV drama.” He warned that one of the toughest tasks Sunak faces is how to survive until next election, originally scheduled for January 2025.
Right after Sunak won the Conservative Party leadership race there were calls for a general election by voices from other political parties. Labour lawmaker Angela Rayner complained that Sunak’s accession was a coronation and that the Tories could not “keep doling out prime ministers every month.” The opposition Labour Party has held record leads in opinion polls of more than 25 points ever since Truss’s budget sent shockwaves through financial markets.
After Truss stepped down, one petition calling for a general election had attracted more than 879,000 signatures by Tuesday, October 25. In the UK, general elections must be held at least every five years. However, the prospect of Britain seeing its third prime minister since the last poll in 2019 and the second to come into power without a public vote will put pressure on Truss’ successor to ask the public for a new mandate, CNN reported. The possibility of earlier elections is very high, if Sunak fails to tackle the sky-high inflation in the UK in half a year of his governance, or meets strong pushback of his policies, or encounters major obstacles of forming a cabinet, Li Guanjie, a research fellow from the Shanghai Academy of Global Governance and Area Studies, under the Shanghai International Studies University has told the Global Times.
Another Chinese commentator Zhao has observed, “Sunak possesses technocratic style of governing, but doesn’t believe he is the savior of a crisis-wrecked UK.” “Except for different descent, Sunak is no different from his Conservative Party predecessors. The election is in essence an election within the Conservative Party, thus desirable candidate is just chosen by Conservative Party members,” said Zhao.
Threat is from a racial and communal angle too as many opponents haven’t taken this change in the right earnest. Sunak’s Indian heritage and his wealth may put him under more strict scrutiny as Prime Minister, and in return will weigh on his decision-making process. “Being a leader from a minority group, he may tend to be more conservative just to avoid wide criticism; and he will be very vulnerable if people see his policy as favoring the rich and big companies,” said Zhao.
The New York Times also reported that critics speculated Sunak’s Indian heritage might have hurt him in the race with some party members this summer; his wealth was viewed as the bigger issue.
Earlier this year, Rishi Sunak was accused of treachery by his party rivals when he resigned from the cabinet of former leader Boris Johnson, triggering his downfall too.
Many Conservatives say he is too rich to understand the day-to-day economic pressures building in Britain, and worry whether he could ever win an election for a party that has been in power for 12 years.
Sunak had the most difficult economic and political inheritance of any British leader since World War Two, and would be constrained by the mistakes made by his predecessor Truss.
Strengths of Sunak
Sunak had shown composure when he became finance minister just as the COVID-19 pandemic hit Britain.
Amid the turmoil, whereas polls show that Britons want an election, the Conservatives do not have to hold one until January 2025.
Many Conservative lawmakers appear relieved that the party had at least selected a new leader quickly.
Rishi Sunak is Britain’s first Prime Minister of Indian origin whose family had migrated to Britain in the 1960s, a period when many people from Britain’s former colonies had moved to the country to help it rebuild after World War Two.
The jubilant mood among Indian public is tinted with pride and comfort, given the history that India was used to be a colony of Britain. Despite his Indian origin, Sunak was born and bred in the UK, and is a British politician. So he will only make his decisions on behalf of the UK, and it has nothing to do with his identity.
The Immediate Testing Moments
October 31; Finance minister Jeremy Hunt – the fourth person in the role in four months – is due to present a budget to plug a black hole in the public finances that is expected to have ballooned to up to 40 billion pounds. He is expected to make deep spending cuts to try to rebuild Britain’s fiscal reputation. The task however, may be helped by a recovery in the bond market, with the 30-year gilt, which has suffered unprecedented losses after the mini-budget on September 23, now recovered to levels close to those seen early on that day.
The way out
Rishi Sunak will have to be extraordinarily conservative and cautious while steering the country out of the big crisis, not only due to internal factors, but also the external ones.