• Saturday, June 25, 2022

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‘Sunak’s ethnicity is no bar to his rapid rise in politics’

Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak (Photo: Parliament/Jessica Taylor/Handout via REUTERS).

By: Radhakrishna N S

By Amit Roy

LORD MICHAEL ASHCROFT, a former treasurer and deputy chairman of the Conservative party, has revealed why he decided to write the first-ever biogra­phy of the chancellor, Going for Broke: The Rise of Rishi Sunak.

“At the beginning of the year, hardly anyone outside Westmin­ster and Yorkshire had heard of Rishi Sunak. Then all of a sudden he was one of the most powerful and influential figures in a govern­ment facing a national crisis,” Lord Ashcroft told Eastern Eye in an exclusive interview. “I thought people would be interested to know more about him and how he achieved such a meteoric rise.”

Lord Ashcroft confirmed that royalties from the sale of his book “will go to a range of charities that I support, including those for vet­erans, education, sepsis aware­ness and fighting crime”.

Asked whether the Tory party and the country in general were ready to accept someone who was not white as prime minister, he replied: “It is more than ready. One good sign is his adoption as the Conservative candidate by one of the least ethnically diverse constituencies in the country.

“I don’t think the candidates’ ethnicity would be foremost in people’s minds in any leadership election. The Tories would actu­ally take some satisfaction in hav­ing the first leader from an ethnic minority – just as they had the first (and second) woman prime min­ister, and the first (and second) chancellor and home secretary from an Asian background.”

Born on May 12, 1980, in South­ampton to Hindu Punjabi parents, Yashvir and Usha Sunak – who came to Britain from east Africa – Sunak was head boy for a term at Winchester and took a First at Ox­ford. His father worked as a GP, his mother as a pharmacist. Sunak is married to Akshata, the daughter of Infosys founder NR Narayana Murthy, but their relationship be­gan when they were students at Stanford University in America be­fore her father became one of the richest men in India.

The chancellor was elected to parliament five years ago, taking over one of the safest Tory seats in the country – Richmond in York­shire – from William Hague, the former Conserative party leader and foreign secretary.

Asked whether Sunak’s career prospects depended solely on the patronage of the prime minister Boris Johnson, Lord Ashcroft said: “He might have been dependent on Boris in the early days, but I don’t think that’s the case any more. He has now established himself as a major figure in his own right.

“On the patronage point, there is really nothing else Boris can promote him to – and after Sajid Javid, for Boris to lose a second chancellor would look like care­lessness. He doesn’t have his own gang or faction, but he has won the confidence of a lot of MPs and has certainly got himself noticed by the voters. So, I think his future career is in his own hands and that of the electorate.”

Lord Ashcroft argued that Su­nak’s ethnicity is no longer a cru­cial factor: “Having spent years doing political research, as well as being involved in politics more generally, I honestly don’t think those things matter to the vast ma­jority of voters.

“People like Rishi because they think he is doing a good job in the circumstances and is actually try­ing to help, and that counts far more than his background.

“The same applies when peo­ple on the left attack him for being rich – voters are much more inter­ested in whether you seem decent and competent than they are in your wealth or family background or ethnicity.”

Lord Ashcroft launched his book on the website, Conserva­tiveHome, where he declared: “I did not want this book to be a hagiography. And those of you who read Call Me Dave, my biog­raphy of David Cameron; well, know that I’m not exactly afraid to reveal the good, the bad, and the ugly.

“But perhaps the sin­gle most remarkable fea­ture of Sunak’s rise is how few enemies he has made along the way, a most unusual achieve­ment in the world of politics. Nobody seems to have a bad word to say about the guy.”

He pointed out: “He’s only 40 and is clearly go­ing to be a key player on the political scene for some time to come. De­pending how things go, there may well be scope for a sec­ond instalment of my book.”

On how much access he had to his subject, Lord Ash­croft disclosed: “I’d met him in passing, but I haven’t really spent time with him. In some ways, that’s an advantage when writing a book like this: we have no his­tory. He didn’t actively cooperate, but he was not obstructive either. He and his team knew about the project and did not discour­age colleagues from talk­ing to me, unlike the position that Camer­on took.”

As for the chan­cellor’s politics, he said: “He talks about the dignity of work, and the importance of enterprise in the sense that he has a keen understand­ing that prosperity doesn’t appear out of nowhere. And that’s one reason he has been an advocate for not lock­ing down any harder or for any longer than was necessary.

“Free trade has also been an important driver for him, espe­cially when it came to Brexit. But he’s also a pragmatist. During the Brexit wars there were plenty of principled resignations by junior ministers whose names we have all now forgotten. He understands that decisions are made by the people in the room.”

Sunak, who is apparently a rea­sonable ballroom dancer, has “talked about how his family would carry on their cultural tra­ditions while being absolutely part of their local community in England. At the weekend, he would go to the Hindu temple, and to football matches at his be­loved Southampton. There was never any contradiction between the two ways of life.”

On what would happen “were Boris Johnson to fall under the proverbial bus”, the author com­mented: “There are a couple of things in his favour. One is that for many voters, he is the chancellor who helped save their job, or keep them solvent when they might otherwise have gone under – something that people have spon­taneously said in my polling and focus groups.

“While he might not have the same kind of magnetism that we saw from Boris on the campaign trail, he is also much less of a Marmite figure. There is a sort of quiet decency and competence that people might respond to after these tumultuous years.

“And, of course, it depends who he is up against. You might also ask whether a Remain backing lawyer from north London would have more appeal to voters than a Yorkshire Brexiteer.”

Lord Ashcroft summed up: “He comes across as extreme­ly competent at a time when competence is at a premi­um. His biggest strength is a combination of huge intellect, ferocious work ethic, good political judg­ment, the ability to project himself well, and great in­terpersonal skills that en­able him to win people over and acquire confi­dence in who he is, and what he can do.”

Going for Broke: The Rise of Rishi Sunak by Mi­chael Ashcroft is published by Biteback Publishing; £20.

Eastern Eye

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