Rishi Sunak's strategy of silence to become the next UK PM

Britain's next leader has won the support of a majority of MPs while revealing the least

Conservative Party leadership candidate Rishi Sunak leaves the campaign office in London. AP
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The day before Liz Truss resigned Rishi Sunak briskly walked past The National and other journalists in parliament, attracting little attention.

He was gone before anyone had the chance to ask a question that might have shed some light on how he has managed in just a few days to go from being a fleeting figure on the backbenches to the very apogee of power in Britain.

Since he was beaten in the two-month long Conservative leadership race over the summer Mr Sunak has become an elusive figure in parliament, rarely seen in the House of Commons’ chamber.

It has been a seemingly deliberate ploy that has seen him rise from the temporary shadows of the backbenches to the post of prime minister this week.

The key driver for the voiceless campaign strategy has probably been to not antagonise MPs, party members and, most importantly, the Boris Johnson faction.

Some Johnson supporters remain hostile to Mr Sunak, blaming him for precipitating the former prime minister’s July departure when he resigned as chancellor.

That opened the door for 60 members of Mr Johnson's government to quit, terminally undermining his authority, triggering his resignation and the leadership race that saw Ms Truss become prime minister on September 6.

Mr Sunak was neither given nor probably wanted a ministerial post in Ms Truss’s government, instead spending much of his time at his constituency in Richmond, Yorkshire. He did appear in the Commons for the tributes to the late Queen Elizabeth II, but otherwise remained unseen, and was 200 miles away in Yorkshire when Ms Truss resigned last Thursday.

Britain's former Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak pictured together in October 2020.  AP

That was deliberate. Mr Sunak was determined this time round that he would be absolutely free from accusations of treachery or conspiring to dethrone the leader.

The campaign strategy appears to have worked exceptionally well, with more than half of the 357 Tory MPs publicly stating they will back him for prime minister.

Since Thursday, Mr Sunak has not spoken a word in public and only issued a single statement on Twitter.

The country is facing “a profound economic crisis” he said. “That's why I am standing to be leader of the Conservative Party and your next prime minister.”

The unspoken point was that he was the man to handle the grave economic state Britain has found itself in following Ms Truss’ disastrous mini-budget of unfunded tax cuts.

During the leadership campaign Mr Sunak had warned that her “fairy-tale economics” would lead to disaster and has been very much vindicated by events.

He concluded the statement by saying that there would be “integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level of the government I lead”, a clear poke at Mr Johnson’s shambolic administration.

A poll suggested that had Mr Sunak gone up against Ms Truss again for another vote among the 166,000 Tory members he would have won with 60 per cent.

His most recent, voiceless campaign strategy suggests he has learnt that his slick, well-honed American-style campaign in July was off-putting to many.

Mr Sunak, 42, has learnt a lesson in humility and also strategy, which could leave him well placed to overcome the Tory disasters of this year and place his party and Britain in a better financial — and indeed psychological — place.

Updated: October 24, 2022, 1:51 PM
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