I felt compelled to write about Rishi Sunak after listening to a guest on LBC who proudly claimed that Rishi is not British enough to be Prime Minister, but New York-born, of Turkish descent Boris Johnson is. I implore everyone to listen to that conversation, as it highlights what a quiet and small section of the UK electorate believes: that Rishi is not fit to be Prime Minister because he is of Asian descent.
In my last piece for New Thinking, I explored why representation matters and highlighted the personal story of my baba ji (grandad) as it noted how the small victories of older generations throughout society have meant the struggle of people of color has paid off. Immigrants who came to the UK and contributed above and beyond have created a legacy that has enabled future generations to be more comfortable and prosperous in British society.
At face value, I am proud that Rishi Sunak is Prime Minister. He is the first British Asian Prime Minister of Punjabi descent. It is a significant milestone reached, and I hope it inspires a new generation of British Asians to engage more actively in politics.
Now, notice how I said “face value.” There’s a reason for this. I judge politicians on things that actually matter; their actions, policy proposals, voting record, and ability to connect with working people. Not their race.
The caller on LBC did make one very good point in his interview. As one of the UK’s 250 wealthiest people, the ex-Goldman Sachs banker is undoubtedly a member of the elite and cannot walk into pubs, shops, and homes in towns in the “Red Wall” and connect with normal people. Forget needing votes from these Red Wall towns; Rishi needs to understand people’s lives, struggles, and needs. The problem for Rishi is not just his elite background; the “Westminster Bubble” has already consumed him, he hasn’t ever needed to reach out to people, and I don’t think he actually knows how.
During his Tory leadership bid, a video resurfaced showing Sunak in his early twenties proudly saying: “I have friends who are aristocrats, I have friends who are upper class, I have friends who are working class… well, not working class.” The funny yet almost worrying part is how he knew he messed up. It’s the quickest of self-corrections. It’s as if he’s instantly thought to himself: “Oh God no, I don’t associate with those kinds of people.”
Now, I understand the counter-argument that, as a kid, your parents decide what school you go to. His parents decided to pay for the prestigious Winchester College. I still reference this old video because nothing has changed since. The garden party gaffe is the best example. This recent video shows Rishi’s contempt for northern working people, where he boasts about switching funding from deprived northern towns to leafy suburbs in the south. As you grow older, your social circles expand, and you meet people from all corners of society. I’m sure Rishi has during his time as an MP. However, despite this, he quietly, secretly, at a backdoor garden party, reminded people of what he really believes and thinks.
His voting record speaks volumes, too. He has voted against measures to prevent climate change; he has never voted on gay rights, voted against paying higher benefits for those unable to work due to illness or disability, and has voted against higher taxes on banks. The list is extensive. Time and again, Rishi’s actions have hindered working people. Yet despite this, Sunak poses a serious problem for Labour. Politics has changed; Britain has evolved, with the media playing a massive role in how the electorate views party leaders. The safety and security of a nation are only half the battle now for a Prime Minister. The electorate care just as much about their leader having a good head of hair, a well-tailored suit, and a commanding voice. Policy solutions are an afterthought.
Let’s not forget that Rishi wasn’t even his party’s first choice. Liz Truss won the leadership election; however, her constant blunders and mishaps forced her out the door. Rishi became Prime Minister through clearing; he was the best of the rest. He is the first person who actually made second place look like something worth celebrating. I find it hard to understand why you would even want to be the leader of the Conservative Party currently, let alone Prime Minister. Since Brexit, the Tories have been on a rollercoaster journey of loyalty to a leader followed by infighting and turmoil. It seems to be a poisoned chalice. Unlike Prime Ministers who win a general election and can bank on four years to deliver their agenda, Sunak faces a political clock ticking at twice the normal speed. At the very latest, he must call a general election by 2025. Labour is howling for an early general election as Sunak has no official mandate to govern.
For now, though, he has to unite his party behind his vision. Britain is on the economic brink, with its status and union under threat, and its place in the world is being questioned. Does Sunak have what it takes to lead Britain forward to a brighter and more prosperous future?
Time will tell.