LONDON – It has been a difficult year for leading politicians in Britain. Few were impressed as the country fights a raging coronavirus epidemic and continues its never-ending Brexit.
Except Rishi Sunake.
The young, well-dressed Minister of Finance was little known until recently, and it was not until 2015 that he entered Parliament. On Wednesday, the headlines again present the latest economic forecast for the country affected by the coronavirus.
Sunak has already pledged more than £ 200bn ($ 267.56bn) to tackle the Covid-19 crisis and is announcing further investment to ease pressure on the health service and offset rising unemployment.
But the relatively inexperienced former banker with Indian roots came into the spotlight as one of the country’s strongest politicians.
They are muttering louder and louder now – could Sun become Britain’s first non-white prime minister? Commentators at home and abroad said it could happen.
According to a recent poll, Sunak was the most popular figure among serial members of the ruling Conservative Party. The same poll gave Prime Minister Boris Johnson a minus 10 percent approval rating.
The tabloid press named him “Dishy Rishi,” thanks to his charismatic performances and slick social media account where he can boast half a million followers.
At the age of 40, he is the second youngest chancellor of the coffers, the obsolete official title considered the second most important government job.
Sun has been seen by many as a sure hand during Britain’s public health crisis as criticism grows around Johnson’s epidemic response, with the UK having the highest number of Covid-19 deaths in Europe.
The prime minister, who was hospitalized with the coronavirus in April, is currently isolating himself after being exposed to the virus again.
Sunak acknowledged the role of competition in his political life.
In his debut speech to a parliament based in Yorkshire in northern England, he joked that the creators thought his “brown” was better than his white predecessor. Newspapers have also been nicknamed the “Maharaja of the Yorkshire Dales”.
Sunak often talked about the debt he owes Britain for hosting immigrant grandparents and contributing to his journey to business and politics, which officials say now includes a shot at the top job.
Across the Atlantic, the selection of historian Kamala Harris, who also has Indian heritage, as the elected vice president of Joe Biden’s incoming administration, further explored Sunak’s identity and political ambitions.
The assassination of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May and subsequent protests prompted Sun to talk about his experiences of racism.
“As a British Asian, of course, I know that racism exists in our country,” he said he said in June, recalling that the incidents of abuse against the adult and his siblings were “particularly disturbing”.
Speculation about Sun’s possible rise is all the more surprising as he is a member of the British Conservative Party, which has traditionally supported anti-immigration policies and fought against ethnic minority voters.
Sun’s rise reflects the Conservative Party’s “dramatic generational change,” Sunder Katwala, director of the British Future Immigration Brain Trust, told NBC News.
According to a survey by Ipsos MORI, ethnic minority voters overwhelmingly elected the opposition Labor Party in the 2015, 2017 and 2019 elections.
The Conservative Party has at times housed right-wing firefighters like Enoch Powell, who promised in 1968 that widespread immigration would lead to “blood flows” and division.
Johnson himself came under fire for using the black children in an insulting phrase in a 2002 newspaper column about former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Johnson later apologized, saying his comments were made “in a completely satirical way.”
But Katwala, who also has an Indian heritage, warned that if Sunak became party leader, “it would be easy to think that voters from ethnic minorities would flock to a politician based on a divided ethnicity.”
Katwala also warned against an easy comparison between Britain and America.
“There will be no ‘British Obama’ because Britain is not America,” he said, adding that Britain had always “better known ethnic diversity in leadership positions.”
The Hindu Sun took his parliamentary oath on the sacred writing of the Bhagavad Gita.
Britain colonized India until 1947, and some argued that Sun’s rise could allow the former to reconcile his imperial past.
“There’s no question that India will be happy,” Indian lawmaker Shashi Tharoor told NBC News. “It’s a measure of how old Britain has become since the (colonial) days.”
Sun’s success “Britain would do a lot of good in the world, especially in the eyes of the brown and black worlds,” Tharoor added.
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While race is a quick issue in multicultural Britain, Sunak’s emergence also touches on another social fault line: the class.
Two-thirds of Johnson-cabinet cabinet ministers attended private school. Sunak, the eldest of the three brothers, had a boss at the prestigious Winchester College, an elite boys boarding school founded in 1382, with the motto “Manners Makyth Man.”
According to government figures, only 7 per cent of children in the UK go to private school.
Sun then went on a well-trodden path at Oxford University to study philosophy, politics and economics, degrees that are popular with those with a political future in mind.
He then earned an MBA from Stanford University in California as a Fulbright Scholar, then worked for Goldman Sachs Investment Bank and London Hedge Funds, and in 2015 was the seat of Parliament.
Because of his financial background, Sunak is one of the richest members of Johnson’s cabinet, in part because of his 2009 marriage to Akshata Murthy – his billionaire father, NR Narayana Murthy, founded the Indian technology giant Infosys.
Despite his wealth and privileges, some say Sunak still has commonalities.
A fan of “Star Wars” posts pictures of her pets, two daughters, and her financial initiatives on social media, often adorned with catchy sentences and signatures.
Johnson’s government is facing another potential crisis in the form of the country’s winding exit from the European Union.
Like almost Johnson’s cabinet, Sunak is a strong supporter of Brexit and campaigned to leave the EU in the 2016 referendum.
During the fierce campaign of 2016, Sunak had a relatively low profile but represented the government’s position of “freedom” on television and on the air as a seamless press speaker.
But the future is by no means an easy sailing for Sunak.
It has raised public borrowing to an unprecedented level and has so far spent some £ 391 billion ($ 505 billion) on rescuing businesses and paying workers ’wages – more than half of government spending between 2016 and 17.
According to the economy’s share, this will be the largest borrowing since World War II as Sunak prepares to make up-to-date economic forecasts for the country on Wednesday.
Analysts say they have no choice but to raise taxes – a huge turnaround for conservative voters.
And you need to be aware of the financial implications of Brexit when the UK finally stops sharing trade rules with the EU on 1 January.
According to Carl Emmerson, deputy director of the London Institute for Fiscal Studies, Sunak’s furlough program, which paid 80 per cent of his salary to 9 million Britons at the time of the epidemic, was a “smart policy” and likely stopped unemployment from becoming “astronomical.”
Amid England’s second national closure, the system was extended until March, which means “more difficult calls are still to come,” Emmerson warned. “It’s possible that chancellors who abolish taxes will be less popular.”
The Treasury Department rejected NBC News’s request for an interview with Sunak.
Johnson has been denying for years that he would have ambitions for the No. 10 Downing Street. To him, and once described rumors as stupid “cats.” In July 2019, he became prime minister.
If you really consider yourself a future premiere for Sun, you choose the same low-key strategy.
In August, a radio presenter, asked if the epidemic had dampened his hopes for the post of prime minister, replied to Sunak with a British restraint, “Oh my God, I have no such desire.”
Reuters contributed to the report.