Friday, July 19, 2024

Rishi Sunak Faces Uphill Battle as UK Prime Minister

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Rishi Sunak is gearing up for next month’s general election, aiming to secure his own public mandate after being appointed Conservative leader and UK prime minister by his parliamentary colleagues.

The 44-year-old former financier took on the challenging task of stabilizing the UK economy and managing his turbulent party when he succeeded Liz Truss in October 2022, following her short-lived 49-day tenure.

While Sunak has made some progress on economic stabilization, he has struggled to quell internal party conflicts. Polls indicate he is among the UK’s most unpopular leaders and faces a likely defeat in the July 4 vote.

“The more people see of Sunak, the less they like him in some ways,” said Tim Bale, author of a book on the Conservative Party since Brexit, reflecting on Sunak’s first year as prime minister.

Since then, Sunak has faced continuous challenges, failing to regain support from Keir Starmer’s resurgent Labour Party. A recent poll even showed Nigel Farage’s anti-immigration Reform UK party ahead of the Conservatives.

Sunak has faced criticism for his political acumen, particularly after leaving the 80th anniversary of D-Day events early, sparking widespread outrage. He has since apologized multiple times and denied rumors of quitting before polling day.

Struggles with Public Perception

Despite his wealth, Sunak has found it difficult to connect with regular voters grappling with a cost-of-living crisis. His suggestion of an austere childhood due to a lack of satellite television was widely mocked, and his voter interactions often appear awkward.

Sunak’s current challenges contrast sharply with his rapid rise to power, becoming Britain’s youngest modern prime minister at 42 and the first of South Asian descent. Born in Southampton to a family doctor father and a mother who ran a local pharmacy, Sunak’s grandparents emigrated from Punjab in the 1960s with “very little.”

Educated at Winchester College, Oxford, and Stanford universities, Sunak’s elite background became a focal point during his Tory leadership campaign when a video of a 21-year-old Sunak mentioning his aristocratic and upper-class friends surfaced, noting quickly he had no working-class friends.

After amassing significant wealth in finance, Sunak won the Conservative seat of Richmond in Yorkshire in 2015. His polished image earned him the media nickname “Dishy Rishi.”

Early Political Career and Pandemic Response

Theresa May appointed Sunak as a junior minister in 2018. An early supporter of Brexit, he became chancellor of the exchequer in February 2020, just as the Covid pandemic began. Sunak’s rapid economic support package is one of his proudest achievements.

However, his reputation took a hit during the pandemic after receiving a police fine for breaching Covid rules at a Downing Street gathering. Additionally, his wife Akshata Murty faced scrutiny over her non-domiciled tax status, affecting Sunak’s approval ratings. Murty later announced she would pay UK taxes on her global income.

Sunak and Murty, who met while studying in California, have two daughters and a photogenic dog. He insists their story is a “very Conservative” one of hard work and aspiration.

In July 2022, Sunak’s resignation as finance minister helped trigger Boris Johnson’s downfall amid public anger over the government’s Covid response. Many Conservatives have not forgiven Sunak and continue to criticize his leadership.

Despite these challenges, Sunak asserts that only his “clear plan” and “bold action” can transform Britain, though voters seem poised to limit his tenure to less than two years.

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