Rishi Sunak's drive and intellect required in push for PM

A life of high achievement could yet see the bright, young former chancellor become Britain's first Asian leader

Former British chancellor Rishi Sunak arrives for a hustings event in central London. EPA
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

In his 42 years Rishi Sunak has achieved a remarkable amount in a very short time, a quality that will very much required if he is to become Britain’s next prime minister.

He will have to rocket out of the traps if he is to convince the Conservative membership that he would make the better candidate as leader than Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.

A man of great capabilities, immense drive and smooth charm, he may be able to overhaul the front-runner in opinion polls.

But he has only days in which to make a positive effect as ballot letters to the 160,000 Conservative membership will be dropping on doormats from August 1. That membership, largely male, white, middle-class and living in southern England, might rapidly make up their minds and post their vote within a few days despite the deadline being September 3.

So, Mr Sunak needs to make something happen. For a man who has been focused and striven throughout his life, that is within his capabilities.

Born in 1980, to parents of Indian heritage who had arrived in Britain via East Africa, the young Rishi was given a solid start to life.

Like many successful immigrants, his father a doctor, his mother a pharmacist, his parents understood the advantages to be gained from a private British education.

With the fees challenging, the young Rishi was put forward for the prestigious Winchester College scholarship. He failed but the experience gave him — and his parents — the scent that life success could be achieved with an elite education. His parents took on extra jobs, found the money and Rishi excelled, becoming the first Asian head-boy of Winchester, the highly academic school in southern England.

The University of Oxford was the natural next stop, but unlike many of his contemporaries, the 18-year-old learnt hard graft and humility working as a waiter in an Indian restaurant to save money for college.

While not high-profile among the Oxford’s young Conservative buccaneers, he did become president of the university’s Investment Society inviting bankers on how to make it big in the City.

Firmly focused on financial success, he graduated in 2001 going straight into the money by working for investment bank Goldman Sachs.

An MBA at Stanford University, aged 24, not only rounded his education but also his personal life where he met the creative and fashion-loving Akshata Murthy, daughter of billionaire Narayan Murthy, India's sixth-richest person.

After a four-year courtship, where both also developed an admiration for California, they were married at a two-day celebration in Bangalore.

Having made his own fortune investing in companies from Silicon Valley to India, Mr Sunak set upon the idea of entering politics. His motivation, friends say, was driven by a desire for the common good rather than as an ideologue.

The Conservatives clearly recognised his qualities and he was given the very safe seat of Richmond in Yorkshire to fight in the 2015 general election.

Mr Sunak immediately set down his roots by purchasing a £1.5 million Georgian manor house with 12 acres and an ornamental lake.

Rishi Sunak opens the Great Ayton Village Fete in Yorkshire in June. Getty Images

Joined by his wife, dressed in Barbour jacket and Wellington boots, the couple toured fetes and markets gaining popularity and respect, as well as the seat.

Despite his 27,000 majority, Mr Sunak does not neglect his constituents, regularly entertaining locals at his manor in the seat.

His rise through Parliament was swift. He became chief secretary to the treasury — replacing the promoted Ms Truss — and then when Sajid Javid resigned in early 2020, was appointed chancellor, becoming the fifth Winchester old boy to hold the post.

Mr Sunak, who took his parliamentary oath to the queen on the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita, was faced with the most challenging financial crisis of his generation when the Covid-19 pandemic hit only a few weeks later.

His furlough scheme and deft handling of the economy won many plaudits. But his economic views fell foul of Boris Johnson, ultimately leading to his resignation, only 10 minutes after Mr Javid’s on 5 July.

His campaign to win the votes of MPs went smoothly, his debate performance on live television cemented his coolness under pressure. But all those skills honed in the classroom, the boardroom and parliamentary corridors will be required if he is to succeed and become the first non-white British prime minister.

UK Conservatives on the leadership campaign trail - in pictures

Updated: July 21, 2022, 4:55 PM