BREAKING: Multimillionaire becomes UK's first Prime Minister of Color
On October 24, 2022, multimillionaire and former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, won the nomination for leader of Britain's Conservative Party after concessions by all his inter-party rivals, including former Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Sunak is poised to make history as the first person of color and of Punjabi descent to be Great Britain's Prime Minister. Furthermore, at only 42 years of age, Sunak is the youngest person to assume office in 200 years.
Newly-elected British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. Source: Wall Street Journal
Following Liz Truss’ tumultuous and extraordinary brief tenure, Sunak will be the third Prime Minister the country has had in seven weeks, and is tasked with remedying the economic recession his predecessor's government brought on, at a time when the Conservative Party is increasingly internally fractured and unpopular with the British public.
Despite the fact that Sunak - a pragmatist who warned that Truss’ economic plan would devastate the UK - is supported by the centrist and moderate part of the Conservative Party, he faces criticism from the liberal Labor party not only for how he was elected Prime Minister, but also because of his wealth.
Firstly, the Labor party criticizes his assumption to the Prime Ministership because, like his Conservative predecessors Liz Truss, Boris Johnson, and Theresa May, he was not elected by the general public. Rather, Sunak was elected by Conservative Members of Parliament (MP’s); a phenomenon made possible by the majority that the Conservative Party has maintained in Parliament since the general election of David Cameron in 2010.
"[Sunak] has no idea what working people need."
In addition to Labor party criticisms that Sunak has no public mandate to hold office, the deputy leader of the opposition party, Angela Rayner, has also protested that due to Sunak’s extreme wealth he has “no idea what working people need.” Specifically, Sunak and his wife, tech heiress Akshata Murty, boast a combined fortune of 730 million pounds ($830 million). Robert Ford, a Professor of Politics at the University of Manchester argues that Sunak’s unpopularity among specific populations is not due to his wealth itself, but rather arises as a response to his elitist behavior and subsequent inaccessibility to the general population.
This inaccessibility directly led to Sunak’s loss to Truss in the race for Prime Minister in July 2022, as reports surfaced that he was supposedly unaware of how to pay at a gas station, and the fact that he often wore designer brands to visit construction sites, and other engagements with the working class public. Furthermore, Sunak was fined by British police for his attendance of former-PM Boris Johnson's birthday party at Downing Street during Covid-19 lockdowns, the event that contributed to Johnson's vote-of-no-confidence. Sunak's behavior during the lockdown suggests a lack of respect for the health of British citizens, as well as a lack of regard for laws imposed by his own government.
Sunak’s public image was further damaged in the summer of 2022 by his wife’s act of tax evasion. Murty had been filing for taxes in the UK as a “non-domiciled” resident: a choice which allowed for her to avoid paying British taxes on the money she made abroad through fashion and other endeavors to further aggrandize her inheritance.
Rishi Sunak and wife Akshata Murty. Source: The Guardian
A survey released on October 24 revealed that the most commonly associated word with Sunak is “rich”. This comes as no surprise: he is the wealthiest member of the House of Commons, and has degrees from elite universities like Stanford and Oxford under his belt. This survey illuminates how severe the divide between classes is in the United Kingdom: the distrust of elites has pervaded British politics so heavily that it has overshadowed the long overdue diversity that Sunak will bring to the position, suggesting that British citizens are not swayed by identity politics.
Despite his identity as a Hindu person of color and despite his parents' Indian origin, Sunak claims to further tighten Britain's immigration policy, even suggesting to send Rwandan refugees back to a war-zone. He has made promises to lessen the power of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which exists to ensure that European nations make legislative actions that protect human rights. In the case of immigration, Sunak states: "The ECHR cannot inhibit our ability to properly control our borders and we shouldn’t let it. We need to inject a healthy dose of common sense into the system, and that is what my plan does." It remains to be seen whether Sunak's common sense plan will pose a safe future for refugees.
As Sunak assumes office, he will have to prove that his background as an investment banker at Goldman Sachs and a hedge fund manager are indicative of economic competence instead of elitist preferences; meaning that his economic policy must not only remedy Truss’ missteps, but also rally public support around him and his party if the Conservatives wish to stay in power through the next 2025 general election. All eyes will be on the newcomer as he attempts to jumpstart the economy, reconcile his identity with the often xenophobic and racist Conservative party, and either succeeds or fails in acting as a leader of, and for people - not just the privileged.