New York: As UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson flounders amid the coronavirus pandemic, Rishi Sunak has been a beacon of calm and competence, intervening swiftly to spend billions of pounds supporting jobs as the economy went into lockdown free fall, The New York Times reported.
Sunak, son-in-law of the co-founder of Infosys NR Narayana Murthy, was virtually unknown about 10 months ago. His dizzying rise after being appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer (finance minister) has surprised almost everyone in British politics — in all likelihood even the man who promoted him, PM Boris Johnson, whose approval ratings have plummeted during the pandemic, says NYT.
“Rishi Sunak has the strengths that the Prime Minister so conspicuously lacks, not only basic competence, but a grasp of detail… and no one has mounted such an obvious, in your face, social media campaign as Rishi Sunak,” Tim Bale, professor of politics at the Queen Mary University of London, was quoted as saying.
In a recent poll of party members by the Conservative Home website, Sunak, 40, ranked top of cabinet satisfaction ratings, while Johnson was almost bottom of the list. In a recent virtual party conference, Sunak praised Johnson and also announced the tough economic choices that will be taken for the country.
His fame has continued to rise and his appeal among nonpartisan Britons has been burnished through slick social media posts on Instagram and Twitter designed around “Brand Rishi”.
The reason given for his mass appeal is that his posts are not the old style of political advertisements but has a stylish photo of him endorsing a policy with his distinctive signature, rather like a sporting celebrity might promote an expensive fitness accessory, The New York Times said.
In comparison to the earlier Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid, who had resigned as he did not support putting curbs on his right to hire his own advertisers, Sunak agreed.
“In Britain, the relationship between the Prime Minister and Chancellor — although a central pivot of government — is often one of rivalry and tension. So the idea in February was to ensure that there was one center of power on economic policy: in No. 10,” The New York Times said.
While Sunak was elected by Johnson because he is “adept and diligent”, he also stands popular among the multiracial community of Britain. His grandparents were originally from Punjab and had arrived in England from British colonial East Africa in the 1960s.
In 2015, Sunak was elected to the Parliament and the next year during a referendum on European Union membership he voted to leave. This decision speeded up his promotion through the ranks, though some hardline Brexit supporters say that they suspect it was a tactical move and that they believe he is pressing Johnson to strike a trade deal with the European Union.
In recent months, differences have been growing between Sunak and Johnson.
In September, he protested against several lockdown regulations suggested by scientists advising the Johnson-led government, thus, protecting the economy.
The New York Times quoted Sophia Gaston, a Fellow at the London School of Economics, as saying, “The chancellor has been in the privileged position of playing Father Christmas throughout the pandemic, one of the few politicians bearing gifts rather than taking them away.”
She further said, “If his branding can remain strong during the next six months of economic doom and gloom, there can be no limits on the scope of his political ambitions.”
The New York Times observes that as Sunak has avoided the culture wars stirred by some of Johnson’s pugilistic, pro-Brexit advisers, he is positioned as an exponent of a more competent and inclusive type of politics, an enticing package should a vacancy arise next door in Downing Street.
Sunak does not want to be seen as harboring that ambition. Asked last week if he eventually wants the keys to No 10 Downing Street, Rishi Sunak said with a chuckle: “God, no. Definitely not seeing what the Prime Minister (Boris Johnson) has to deal with.”