UK’s PM race: Who should Indians back?
In my view, Sunak is the man who knows India because of his years as Johnson’s finance minister. He needs support, too, because he is receiving such offensive attacks from the tax reducers
I landed in London when Boris Johnson announced his resignation with extreme reluctance. He had only been prime minister (PM) for three years, and to say those years were tumultuous would be an understatement. There was the tumult of Johnson taking Britain out of Europe, a doubtful achievement because of the mess this created. Not the least of those, Northern Ireland, Johnson has left for his successor to clear up, if that’s possible. The former PM went through the worst of the Covid-19 crisis and succeeded in getting more people vaccinated than most other world leaders. But then Johnson found himself enmeshed in personal crises which brought him down: The illegal parties at 10 Downing Street, the suggestion of breaking the deal on Northern Ireland he signed as part of Brexit, and, finally, the briefings he denied he got about the allegedly improper sexual behaviour of a Member of Parliament (MP) in the Whip’s office.
Johnson has been forced to resign by his party members in Parliament. Their revolt was sparked off by two ministers with subcontinental roots — Rishi Sunak, the former British chancellor of the exchequer, and Sajid Javid, who was the secretary of state for health and social care. Sunak is the son of an Indian doctor and a mother who was a pharmacist. Javid’s father was a bus driver. Sunak won a scholarship to one of Britain’s poshest public schools, Winchester, and then went to Oxford. He then made money as a banker in America and Britain and married into Indian money.
Javid has made much political capital out of his humble social origins. In his resignation speech in parliament, Javid said he realised that the troubles the government was facing “started from the top”. That was an attack on Johnson. Sunak said he could not accept Johnson’s policy to reduce taxation when the economy was in crisis. Other resignations followed, with Johnson hastily filling the vacancies they created. Eventually, a group of Johnson’s colleagues told him he had to resign. He agreed but insisted he would stay in office until a successor was appointed.
The committee of backbench conservative MPs, who arrange the selection of a new leader, has announced that the new leader will be in place on September 6. To achieve this, they have altered the rules to cut the time to find a new leader. So, Britain is amid a series of elections involving Conservative MP’s and ending with an election involving party members throughout the kingdom.
The MP elections have started, and Sunak is leading and near certain to be the eventual selection. But then he has to face the party membership. His firm rejection of tax reductions before finances improve may be recognised as correct by most MPs, but the party members with the decisive vote may well favour the leader committed to lowering taxes. Who that will be is unclear. There is a strong belief among MPs that it is possible to have high spending and lower taxes, which Sunak has described as a fairytale.
Who should Indians back? In my view, Sunak is the man who knows India because of his years as Johnson’s finance minister. He needs support, too, because he is receiving such offensive attacks from the tax reducers that have led the former MP, Lord Michael Howard of Lympne, to say, “I am dismayed by some of the attacks being made on Rishi Sunak. He has called for “the contest to be conducted respectfully”. The former Conservative leader of the Opposition, Lord William Howard, has called for “calm reflection”.
The views expressed are personal