Metro

Rishi Sunak’s next life – By Azu Ishiekwene

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak came to the job as an afterthought, yet his days in Number 10 were numbered before he received the ceremonial blessings of King Charles III.

For a long time after Brexit, the Tories and sections of the British public, still in post-Brexit ecstasy, were madly in love with Boris Johnson. He was incompetent and a congenital liar but a good poster boy of that era. After David Cameron fell on his sword, the Brits wanted someone to extend the comedy of post-Brexit, and Johnson was a good fit. 

Then came COVID-19, a global crisis that tested the leadership of nations. Johnson, US President Donald Trump, and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro were perhaps among the world’s most incompetent leaders of the pandemic era. Their denial and mishandling of the situation took a tragic toll on their citizens. 

The former Sunak

In Britain, Sunak was Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time. While he let his appetite for beer get the better of his judgment once or twice during the lockdown, his boss, Johnson, observed lockdown rules only in the breach. As the British economy – like economies around the world – reeled under the effects of COVID-19, Johnson, the sailor of the British ship, was floating on his sea of beer in garden parties while, at the same time, asking people to keep the rules he was breaking. 

Much of the credit for steering Britain through that problematic time must go to Sunak, whose programmes, including £330 billion in emergency support for businesses and a furlough scheme, helped keep the country afloat. 

Of course, it was only a matter of time before the chaotic Johnson era ended. You would think Sunak would naturally step in, given his outstanding role in managing the COVID-19 crisis and his sound knowledge of the economy.

But no. The mild air of xenophobia, which was also partly responsible for Brexit, had heavily infected Tory backbenchers, too. Even though Sunak’s parents (with Pakistani and Indian roots) immigrated to Britain from East Africa in the 1960s, in a world where you discount identity politics at your own risk, there was still a certain “otherness” about Sunak’s ancestry, his family fortune and his Hindu religion, that made the British establishment uncomfortable.  

Britainistan

With Sadiq Khan as London Mayor, Suella Braverman in the Tory top brass and Hamza Yousaf highly placed in Scotland – not to mention Savid Javid and Priti Patel – the rising profile of Indians and Pakistanis, the Raj-anisation of British politics, real or imagined, was a concern. But there was even a more profound concern – the rising economic clout of these ethnic minorities.

In 2017, the Indian diaspora in the UK was estimated to contribute around six percent of the country’s GDP, and by 2019 the combined wealth of this ethnic nationality was estimated at £338 billion. With an average income of £34,300 in that same year, British Indians had the highest average income among ethnic nationalities in that country.

When it was time to replace Boris Johnson, the country that copied Piper’s art from Egypt and popularised it didn’t need anyone to tell the Tory party that handing over the keys of Number 10 to Sunak could signal the echo of an unfamiliar tune. They kicked the idea of having Piper Sunak further down the road.

Liz mishap

Instead, they settled for Liz Truss, a former rebel and basher of the Crown, but a Brit, through and through, to lead the party. Truss didn’t last; her incompetence threatened to bring Britain to its knees. The Tories soon got rid of her, but apart from further endangering the British economy, her brief reign had also emboldened the Labour Party. Keir Starmer, Labour leader and the next British Prime Minister is a gift to Britain from Tory hubris.

After the fall of Truss, with the Tories bereft of options and confronting the threat of an early election, backbenchers exhumed Sunak to clean up the Augean stable. Things were so bad two years ago when Sunak was chosen to lead the Tories that The Economist’s October 19, 2022 edition likened the situation to Britaly, a sarcastic reference to the carnage in Italy in the 1940s. 

Inflation in Britain was at a record high, with basic foodstuffs and energy prices going through the roof. About 33 percent of the population outside fixed mortgage contracts was struggling to pay, and the British economy, which was 90 percent the size of the German economy, had shrunk to 70 percent. 

 Sunak record

The story is different today. Inflation is down 2.8 percent, compared to around 8 percent two years ago, and unemployment is also down. The British economy is more robust than two years ago, and fewer people outside fixed mortgages struggle to pay. All of that would hardly matter now. As Britain goes to the polls, Sunak has only one in four chances of keeping his seat, and the Tories are bracing for one of the worst defeats ever in nearly two centuries. 

Fourteen years of Tory reign have tested the party’s ingenuity and revealed its resilience, especially in the wake of COVID-19 and the aftermath of Russia’s war in Ukraine. But the years have also revealed Tory dark racial underbelly and brought upon it the inevitable consequences of overstay and familiarity. The party was rotting from the inside. Sunak only managed to defer its eventual collapse.

But Sunak was not a saint. He was not altogether blameless. Those who cheered the rise of the first non-Caucasian to Number 10 are shocked that the pair of Sunak and Braverman, both ethnic minorities, has inflicted a human repatriation policy worse than anything known in recent history. 

Weep not Africa

Africa will not shed a tear at his departure. The continent owes him nothing. In his two-year premiership, he only used “Africa” when discussing the UK-Rwanda asylum repatriation in Parliament. His nearest visit to the continent where he was born in 1980 was at the English Channel, from where immigrants were bundled off to Rwanda in defiance of the rulings by the European Court of Human Rights (EUHR) and the UK Supreme Court.

His penchant for dodging Parliamentary scrutiny, the perception that he lacks the common touch, and his inability to rein in party rebels have also combined to put a nail in his political coffin. 

But Britain will remember him as a godsend in its hour of need. I’m not too worried about what’s next for Sunak. A brief look at what far less gifted former British Prime Ministers are doing shows that he’ll be all right. 

Next life

Boris Johnson earns significant amounts from speaking and writing, as do Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Teresa May. Tony Blair, unfairly despised as the poodle of George Bush because of the war in Iraq, even earns up to £200k for a single speech and has the Tony Blair Institute, which advises governments worldwide.

This must feel like a funeral moment for the Tories and the obsequies of the third prime minister in five years. But Sunak is young and immensely gifted. He is not finished quite yet. His death might have been slightly exaggerated.

 

Ishiekwene is the Editor-In-Chief of LEADERSHIP and author of the new book Writing for Media and Monetising It.

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