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Sunday Sentiments


    Posted On September 11, 2022

    By Karan Thapar

    We’ll never know for sure whether Rishi Sunak’s ethnicity and religion played a part in his defeat in the British Conservative Party’s leadership election. Those who insist it did cannot be convinced it did not. Whilst those who maintain it did not cannot prove it. My hunch is it may have but it almost certainly was not the dominant or, even, the main reason why he lost.


    The truth is Britain has become a very different country to what most people believe it to be. The days when asians and blacks were dismissed as wogs and nig-nogs are long past. You only have to look at May, Johnson and Truss’s cabinets and the faces on the BBC to realise that. And then there’s the Duchess of Sussex.


    This is why I believe the real reasons for Sunak’s loss lie elsewhere. In his track record as Chancellor and, possibly, in the character of his campaign, in the fact his resignation brought a still surprisingly popular Boris Johnson tumbling down and maybe, just maybe, in his style and personality. If there is a fault it lies not so much in his stars but, possibly, in himself and his reluctance to offer the British people what they think they want.


    The most obvious explanation is Sunak’s stand on taxation. The Tories are a low tax party. For them this is an article of sacred belief. However, Sunak as Chancellor raised taxes substantially and only talked about cutting them once inflation had been brought under control. Truss, on the other hand, promised a sharp reduction at the very start of her prime ministership.


    Most economists and industrialists believe Sunak is right. The Wembley rally suggests Londoners also agree. Now, if this had been a national election campaign Sunak might have carried the day. The country seemed to agree with his stand. But it wasn’t and the Conservative Party membership, who live in the shires and are often elderly, are very different people. Truss’s message seemed to be better directed at them. This is important because they were the voters.


    Another explanation is that loyal Boris Johnson supporters voted against Sunak because they believe he’s responsible for bringing down their man. Polls suggest that amongst Tory members Johnson remains far more popular than either Sunak or Truss. The Times even suggests he’s contemplating a come-back. So it seems Sunak could have paid a price for being one of the first to resign. Truss, on the other hand, stayed loyal to Johnson and might have benefitted.


    A third explanation might lie in Sunak’s style and personality. In different and seemingly small ways it remained an issue. But that could have added up to another concern. For instance, at the first debate people thought he was arrogant and many accused him of mansplaining. And right through the last six weeks questions kept being asked about his wealth. No doubt he answered them effectively but the issue did not disappear.


    A particularly intriguing manifestation of this concern was reported by the Daily Telegraph. According to the paper, Sunak’s own team began to fear things were going wrong because of his constant references to California in the early hustings. Sunak did not hide his admiration for California’s culture of enterprise. This, it’s said, suggested he was out of touch with grassroots Tory members.


    So, if Sunak’s ethnicity was a concern I doubt if it was the decisive factor. At most it may have added to everything else.


    Now, not surprisingly, Sunak’s political future could depend on how Truss performs. Though she’s won, the polls suggest a paradoxical lack of confidence in her prime ministership. As things stand, they also suggest she will lose to Labour’s Kier Starmer in 2024. That could pave the way for Sunak’s return.


    He’s 42 and if he has to wait till 2029 he’ll still be under 50. His decision to sit on the back benches is a sign he has his eye on the future.

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