rishi sunak

The rise of Rishi — how the Coronavirus Chancellor took Whitehall

Rishi Sunak appeared out of the blue. Now he’s got to keep the country out of the red.

He came from over the hills — a perky young buck with a well-aimed side parting. He seemed familiar, in a distant sort of way — like a half-forgotten figure from your school days. The smile like a head boy at sixth form open day; the eager, wholesome ears; the lingering hint of a playground lisp; narrow shoulders and dubious lapels. Would look good with a biology textbook under his arm; handy with a jug of orange squash; not sporty, no, but eerily good at cross country; knows the librarian by her first name and sings competently in chapel. You’ve met Rishi Sunak before, even if you haven’t. And if you haven’t, you soon will.

The new Chancellor of the Exchequer is one of the most fascinating stars of the coronavirus crisis. He seems to pull off a most remarkable trick across the rolling soap opera of the daily press briefings at No. 10. While those around him appear to age drastically by the day (Dominic Raab is like an elderly android in the headlights, while Matt Hancock seems to be turning, very quickly, into a wet-lipped shadow of the late Sir David Frost), Rishi Sunak only gets younger and keener. His eyes sparkle like a baby deer; his half smile seems filled with cherubic possibility; his skin softens and smooths, as if a glowing Snapchat filter has been placed, for a moment, over Downing Street. He is the Benjamin Button of politics. With Rishi, anything is possible. (Eternal youth? Sure! Endless money magicked from thin air? Why not! A new currency based on sheer self-belief? Let’s give it a bloody good go!)

rishi sunak

Not that the path to get here was particularly fantastical. Born to a GP father in Hampshire, Sunak went first to the brainiac, non-rugby playing (!) Winchester College (where he was Head Boy — told you); then on to Oxford, where he studied cabinet-bait PPE at Lincoln (not one of the particularly raucous colleges, but not one of the funny little niche ones, either). He got a first, popped on over to Goldman Sachs, made some cash and rose quickly — then went to Stanford as a Fulbright Scholar, and then on to his own little investment firm called Catamaran Partners. Plain sailing (like a catamaran, presumably). The Home Counties Dream at its very finest.

Overachievers tend to rather like the look of Westminster, after a while. Money for money’s sake often starts to feel a bit icky. And Sunak has always said that he was inspired by his first generation immigrant parents, and their hardworking public service (father in the NHS, mother a local pharmacist). So he trotted up to Yorkshire, and its Richmond constituency — the former stomping ground of departing grandee William Hague. A safe seat for a safe pair of hands — Sunak won the place by 19,550 votes in the 2015 election. The new boy soon threw himself gamely into local life, buying a family home in the constituency and even learning to milk a cow.

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