Rishi Sunak, a 42-year-old wealthy banker and former finance minister in the penultimate Johnson government, is the newest British prime minister in a recent string of many. He is the first Hindu of Indian descent to hold the post that once was held by Churchill (as well as Liz Truss). He is also the youngest in modern times. He was inaugurated on the Hindu holiday Diwali. He is also a teetotaler.
He remained the only contender for the Conservative leadership after Penny Mordaunt withdrew – whose anemic candidacy was merely pro forma – and especially after Boris Johnson called it quits.
Over the weekend, the latter, at the prospect of his own political resurrection, had hastily abandoned the tropical beaches where he had isolated himself in frugal meditation, convinced that he could scrape together the hundred or so votes from MPs he needed to challenge Sunak under the Conservative party’s oligarchical internal election practice. He then dropped out at the last moment, officially because the party was too divided and he couldn’t get on the same page with his rivals, but more likely because he wasn’t sure he had enough support to actually go toe to toe against Dishy Rishi (meaning “handsome,” a nickname he has been given in Tory circles for his dashing good looks). Johnson now famously detests Sunak for being the one who caused his downfall.
The news that Johnson was quitting was met by a strong recovery of the pound, which speaks volumes: the Tories are clearly not what they used to be, and investors are investing with more peace of mind with one of their own in Downing Street. But don’t worry, Johnson will be back: a couple more books on Churchill and maybe Disraeli, a few more million raked in like clockwork on the lecture circuit, and we’ll be sure to encounter him again at the next elections, in early 2025.
Although the opposition is clamoring for early elections, Sunak will never agree, since a Tory victory seems highly unlikely – especially when Labor, led by the rather stiff Starmer, finds itself 30 points ahead in the polls, not so much on their merits but on the demerits of their opponents. Obviously, it would be futile to expect from Starmer an economic policy that would be seriously dissimilar to the one about to be inflicted on the country by the Tories: in order to convince business that he has thoroughly stamped out the Corbyinian heresy, he now must ingratiate himself with them at all costs with lobbying and promises of “realism.”
Thus, it’s time for the next contestant, and he needs to hurry. Now it’s the turn of the “recycled” Sunak, an original Brexiteer whose similarly “de-meritocratic” rise owes everything to Theresa May, a former Remainer who ended up resigning herself and who had beaten him quite soundly in the last round of the electoral process. And now, the choreography already rehearsed three times in recent months will begin again: Truss will go to the new king, Charles the Third, who – with palpable relief – will receive her resignation and then invite Sunak to form a government.
But the party remains split between diehard Johnsonians, who are still crying treason, and those who have reluctantly realized that a second season of ”Boris” would be too much for the country. We also have to see what comes of Johnson’s criminal indictments, since he is still under judicial investigation for the violations that brought him to resign.
Sunak has been projecting an image as someone serious and trustworthy with the public accounts – but less so with his own. He is accused of tax avoidance, and his millionaire wife has not paid taxes in the UK (they’ve been called “Scrooges,” but the cartoon character they resemble the most is the more conventional uber-capitalist John D. Rockerduck).
One can expect from Sunak a wave of cuts to public services and a return of austerity, same as in the days of David Cameron and George Osborne. Inflation is at over 10 percent and the country is in recession. With her horror-show budget proposals, Truss had displeased all of her party’s constituency: the financial markets, the Bank of England, even the IMF. Those tax cuts for the wealthy were even in conflict with the Fed’s anti-inflationary rise in the cost of money, and thus the state’s dependence on credit from the financial markets, i.e. on rising debt.
Sunak will play “responsible” for now, raising taxes and especially cutting back on public expenses mercilessly. The freebies for the very wealthy will come later, most likely: a “responsible” Thatcherism as opposed to the cocky, “libertarian” Thatcherism of Truss & Co.
We will disagree about the supposed social progress signified by not having a white Christian at the head of the country: it should be noted that the Tories have long been putting forward right-wing extremists, whether women or figures of non-European origin, in “uncomfortable” roles: to deport migrants, or to prevent debate on colonialism. After all, immigration, abortion rights or rainbow families are best fought with descendants of migrants, women, gays. It’s a devious move to subvert the game in the identity debate, and one that isn’t confined to the UK. Equality is thus obscenely disguised as a right-wing concept. But it also shows that, in the end, there is only class.
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