Rishi Sunak's first statement after being named as next PM
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Aged just 42, the former Chancellor has enjoyed a meteoric political rise. And it’s perhaps fitting that, as a Hindu, his elevation to leader of the country, having overcome several political missteps, of which more later, and following the chaos of Liz Truss, comes at the start of Diwali, the Indian festival of light.
Political enemies might sneer at the wealth of the public school-educated millionaire who has a penchant for wearing £335 designer trainers and who is married to the billionaire heiress of one of India’s richest men.
Supporters, however, applaud the fact our Millennial new PM is independently wealthy thanks to his own success in business, which has been put down to talent, hard work and the example of his parents.
Yes, he went to Winchester College and Oxford, admitting he was, “Very lucky to have been at these places. It does put me in an elite in society”, but Mr Sunak also recalls his parents serving their community as he was growing up; his father as a family GP and his mother running a small pharmacy. Both of Punjabi Indian origin, Yashvir and Usha Sunak came to the UK from East Africa in the 1960s.
The first of their three children, Rishi, was born in Southampton in 1980. After preparatory school, Mr Sunak went to exclusive Winchester College which he readily admits gave him an advantage in life, while insisting: “My parents sacrificed a great deal so I could attend good schools.” He has described the embarrassment of wearing second-hand uniform, but he was a model pupil and ended up head boy. The only hint of trouble was when he smuggled a portable TV into school so that he could watch Euro 96 as England progressed to the semi-finals.
The young Rishi was an avid football fan and a regular in the crowd at Southampton’s Dell stadium. He once said: “In terms of cultural upbringing, I’d be at the temple at the weekend – I’m a Hindu – but I’d also be at the Saints game as well on a Saturday – you do everything, you do both.”
Matt Le Tissier was his favourite Southampton player and Mr Sunak once revealed to the BBC that, “One of my prized possessions is an 18th birthday card signed by the entire Southampton team”.
By then he was already politically aligned to the Conservatives and showing his Eurosceptic leanings. After Labour’s 1997 General Election victory, he wrote in his school magazine that Tony Blair “revels in the label of a patriot, but has plans for the possible breakup of the United Kingdom and membership of an eventual European Superstate. Already the New Labour rhetoric sounds worryingly pro-European”.
Meanwhile, learning from his parents’ work ethic, he served behind the counter in his mother’s pharmacy and waited on customers at a Southampton curry house during his summer holidays to earn spending money.
After Winchester, he won a place at Oxford to study philosophy, politics and economics and then, while studying for an MBA at Stanford University, California, on a Fulbright Scholarship met his future wife, Akshata Murthy, also 42, the daughter of Narayana Murthy, Indian billionaire and co-founder of IT services giant Infosys. He described himself as an enormous fan of rom-coms, claiming he changed some of his classes so that he could sit next to his future wife.
They were married in 2009 and have two daughters. The Sunaks have a combined fortune of £730 million, according to the Sunday Times Rich List.
From 2001 to 2004, Mr Sunak was an analyst for investment bank Goldman Sachs and was later a partner in two successful hedge funds.
Of his political motivations, he has said: “From working in my mum’s tiny chemist shop to my experience building large businesses, I have seen first-hand how politicians should support free enterprise and innovation to ensure our future prosperity.”
Moving into politics, in 2015 he took over the safe Conservative seat of Richmond, North Yorkshire, from William Hague where, he has joked, he is sometimes complimented on his “tan” and where he and his wife represent the constituency’s entire immigrant community.
In fact, he once told the BBC that he counted himself fortunate not to have suffered much racism growing up, but recounted one incident when he was in his mid-teens and was out with his younger brother and sister.
“We were out at a fast food restaurant and I was just looking after them. There were people sitting nearby, it was the first time I’d experienced it, just saying some very unpleasant things: The ‘P’ word. And it stung. I still remember it. It seared in my memory.”
In Yorkshire, however, he says the only time he has ever been mocked was when bought himself blue Wellington boots and was instantly marked out as a “townie”.
One can only imagine what the local farmers would have made of the £335 Achilles by Common Projects white leather trainers he was spotted wearing as he strode through Downing Street earlier this year – a shoe loved by A-listers including Jay-Z, Drake and Reese Witherspoon.
Mr Sunak campaigned for Leave in the EU referendum because he said he believed it would make the UK “freer, fairer and more prosperous” and because he wanted immigration rules changed. He said: “I believe that appropriate immigration can benefit our country, but we must have control of our borders.”
He voted for Theresa May’s Brexit deal on each of the three occasions it came before parliament and he became a junior minister in Mrs May’s government before being made chief secretary to the Treasury when Boris Johnson succeeded her.
Time Magazine included Mr Sunak in its list of the top 100 ‘young emerging leaders’ alongside the singer Dua Lipa and the actor Florence Pugh.
Working as number two to then Chancellor and fellow Star Wars fan Sajid Javid, he tweeted a picture of the pair of them at the cinema where they had just been to see The Rise of Skywalker. “Great night out with the boss – Jedi Master,” he joked.
In February 2020 he was promoted to Chancellor and within weeks found himself having to steer the UK economy through the pandemic as lockdowns began.
On the first anniversary of becoming Chancellor, he wrote on social media: “Growing up I never thought I would be in this job (mainly because I wanted to be a Jedi).”
He pledged to do “Whatever it takes’ to help people through’ and when he announced his furlough scheme and support worth £350billion, his personal popularity soared – earning him the nickname “Dishy Rishi” – but as the country continued to suffer in global economic storms and the cost of living crisis, he had to deal with the fallout of being fined by police for breaking lockdown rules in Downing Street in June 2020.
Critics questioned whether a millionaire like him could understand the financial struggles of ordinary households. Indeed, he and his wife live in a £7million townhouse in Kensington, west London, with their daughters Krishna and Anoushka, one of several properties they own, including a £2million mansion in Mr Sunak’s Yorkshire constituency where he is nicknamed the ‘Maharaja of the Dales’ and where he has been building a swimming pool.
The couple also have a luxury £5.5million penthouse in California, overlooking Santa Monica pier, which they use in the holidays.
He and his family came under increased scrutiny when it emerged his wife, who owns almost one per cent of Infosys, enjoyed ‘Non-Dom’ tax status.
She later announced she would start paying UK tax on her overseas earnings to relieve the political pressure on her husband. It was a rare political misstep for the then Chancellor – as was a photo opportunity when he struggled to pay for petrol at Sainsbury’s in an embarrassing video after making his Spring Statement.
Cumulatively, these helped dent his popularity in the country, gave ammunition to his critics, and may have undermined his original bid to become PM when he lost to Liz Truss who won 57.4% of the vote among Conservative members.
A teetotaller, Mr Sunak confesses he has a sweet tooth, and several tooth fillings as a result of his drinking copious amounts of Coca Cola as a child, and a habit now of eating chocolate muffins and biscuits, and his early morning fitness regime, either on a treadmill, Peloton bike or gym class, often to a Britney Spear soundtrack, is necessary to offset the calories, he says.
Back in 2020 he scoffed at the suggestion he was after Boris Johnson’s job, saying: “God, no. Definitely not, seeing what the prime minister has to deal with.”
Yet during the Summer leadership campaign, he faced accusations he “stabbed Boris Johnson in the back” as he addressed grassroots Conservatives.
There is no doubt his resignation on July 5 – just minutes after Mr Javid following controversy around sexual harassment allegations against MP Chris Pincher – badly damaged Mr Johnson.
Despite having now become PM, a mere seven years after first being elected to Parliament, it still remains to be seen whether Tories will forgive him long-term.
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