Sunak in the spotlight

Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak (Photo: DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP via Getty Images).
Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak (Photo: DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP via Getty Images).


By Amit Roy

PERSONALLY, I don’t think it’s good for Rishi Sunak – “Dishy Rishi” to the tabloids – that the chancellor is talked about as the next prime minister. It’s bound to make Boris Johnson nervous.

Rishi should read my favourite Shakespeare play, Julius Caesar, and beware that in Westminster and especially in the Tory party, there are likely to be more than 60 conspirators, including the latter-day equivalents of Marcus Brutus, Gaius Cassius and Decimus Brutus. If Rishi is to become prime minister one day, he should convince everyone that he is a man totally without ambition.

In that case, what are we to make of the fact that Lord (Michael) Ashcroft, a former treasurer and deputy chairman of the Conservative party, has written a biography, Going for Broke: The Rise of Rishi Sunak (Biteback Publishing; £20)?

Its contents remain under embargo until the publication date of November 12. But the advance publicity for the book sets out how “in the middle of 2019, Rishi Sunak was an unknown junior minister in the local government department. Seven months later, at the age of 39, he was chancellor of the exchequer, grappling with the gravest economic crisis in modern history.

“Michael Ashcroft’s new book charts Sunak’s ascent from his parents’ Southampton pharmacy to the University of Oxford, the City of London, Silicon Valley – and the top of British politics.

“It is the tale of a super-bright and hardgrafting son of immigrant parents who marries an Indian heiress and makes a fortune of his own; a polished urban southerner who wins over the voters of rural North Yorkshire – and a cautious, fiscally conservative financier who becomes the biggest-spending chancellor in history.

“Sunak was unexpectedly promoted to the Treasury’s top job in February 2020… as part of Boris Johnson’s levellingup agenda. Within weeks, the coronavirus had sent Britain into lockdown, with thousands of firms in peril and millions of jobs on the line. As health workers battled to save lives, it was down to Sunak to save livelihoods. This is the story of how he tore up the rulebook and went for broke.”

Ascroft is the author, jointly with Isabel Oakeshott, of Call Me Dave: The Unauthorised Biography of David Cameron, which wasn’t exactly flattering to the former prime minister. But I doubt whether the Rishi book will be in the same vein. He has also written Jacob’s Ladder: The Unauthorised Biography of Jacob Rees-Mogg.

 It would be interesting to know if Ashcroft had access to Rishi. Would Rishi have taken the risk? Would it have done him more harm to have refused to have seen the author?

A former colleague on a national newspaper, who covers politics, tells me: “Ashcroft tends to bring out a biography a year of someone interesting. Rishi is seen as a future prime minister, but who is Rishi? He is seen as squeaky clean, but we don’t know a lot about him.”

David Hare’s new fourpart TV drama, Roadkill, on what goes on behind the scenes in the Tory party, has been slammed by critics, but I found it instructive. Who becomes prime minister is often a matter of chance.