Rishi Sunak

Rishi Sunak: MP for Anywhere

In his 2017 book, The Road to Somewhere, David Goodhart sought to explain the Brexit vote, and the furore that followed, as a rift between two tribes in British life: ‘Somewheres’ and ‘Anywheres’.

Somewheres, Goodhart explained, are traditionally-minded and attached to place. By contrast, Anywheres are cosmopolitans and attached primarily to ideals. Somewheres are often provincial and typically live in (or nearby) the communities in which they were raised. Anywheres are primarily urban and often live far from where they were raised.

For Goodhart, Brexit was a revolt of the nation’s Somewheres. Alienated by the extraordinary rate of social change in the post-Blair era, they took a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to vote against the Anywhere-dominated political establishment.

Though nominally a vote on Britain’s membership of the European Union, the referendum was essentially a vote of protest against the cross-party consensus on immigration.

The frustration of Somewheres is exemplified by voters in ‘The Red Wall’, a patchwork of traditionally Labour-supporting northern constituencies, who voted Tory en masse in the 2019 general election in the hope that Brexit might finally be settled and migration numbers could be reduced.

Though no less baffled than the rest of the establishment, The Conservative Party – unlike many of their fellow Anywheres – was willing to implement the referendum’s result. Ultimately, however, the failure to capitalise on the opportunities presented by Brexit, the collapse of the Red Wall, and a major electoral realignment was to define our outgoing government.

None personified this failure to understand the significance of Brexit as much as the man who was destined to lead the Conservative Party into the most recent election. This would not surprise readers of Goodhart’s work, for Rishi Sunak is Anywhere incarnate.

The hyper-conscientious child of immigrant parents who, through hard work and talent, has risen to the very apex of his profession, Sunak personifies the cosmopolitan ideals of the contemporary western elite.

Sunak’s failure as Prime Minister does not reflect a lack of merit. Of the four Prime Ministers who succeeded Cameron, Sunak was probably the most capable and accomplished.

Sunak’s relationship with his heritage is interesting. Born to Ugandan-Asian parents, Sunak exemplifies the industry and drive of that entrepreneurial group of people. Teetotal and vegetarian, our erstwhile leader married outside both his caste and ethnicity – of Punjabi heritage, his wife is the only daughter of a fabulously wealthy family of south Indian origin. In this he typifies the subcontinent’s elite diaspora who, as Razib Khan writes, have globalisation ‘etched in their bones’.

His heritage aside, Sunak’s background is that of a stereotypical Tory frontbencher. A product of Winchester College (where he was Head Boy), Sunak progressed to Oxford (where he earned a 1st in PPE) and thence to Stanford (via a Fulbright Scholarship). 

Upon graduating, he pursued a career in high finance, first at Goldman Sachs and then at two hedge funds, the latter being based in California. Notoriously, Sunak filed US tax returns while serving as the Chancellor of the Exchequer, not relinquishing his Green Card until 2021.

Having joined the Conservative Party following an internship at Central Office, Sunak became an MP in 2015, replacing William Hague as the representative for Richmond. Parachuted into Number 10 in the aftermath of the Truss debacle, Sunak proceeded to dismay colleagues with displays of poor political judgement, choosing to announce the cancellation of a trainline to Manchester while in Manchester, to cite but one of several notorious examples.

Whereas for most the office of Prime Minister represents the culmination of a long and bruising career; Sunak’s brief tenure as Prime Minister will likely represent just another impressive (though relatively ill-remunerated) entry in a glittering CV. It is safe to presume that, before the Tories are again returned to power, he and his family will decamp to California in order that he might resume his career in finance.

For all the bluster about his supposedly reactionary politics, Sunak’s values align with the managerialist liberalism which dominates the contemporary Conservative Party.

The Economist describes Sunak as ‘the most right-wing Conservative leader of his generation’ and claims his ‘nerdy demeanour covers an overlooked fact… [o]n everything from social issues, devolution and the environment to Brexit and the economy, Mr Sunak is to the right of the recent Tory occupants of 10 Downing Street’, but this is merely relative.

Objectively speaking, similar to his background, Sunak’s politics are blandly Anywhere, believing that a modern economy cannot function without high levels of immigration – derived from his instinctive belief in entrepreneurial mobility – and extols ‘diversity’ as both a moral good and political virtue, even at the expense of factual accuracy.

Sunak’s support of Brexit, often cited as evidence of his right-wing convictions, is misconstrued. Sunak was no ‘Little Englander’ hoping to make Britain’s borders more restrictive. Rather, Sunak saw leaving the EU as an opportunity to further liberalise Britain’s immigration regime.

With Sunak gone, the Conservative Party is once again presented with the opportunity to reinvent itself.

For a generation or more, the Conservative Party has simply failed to take the concerns of Middle England seriously. Sunak, so removed from the concerns of ordinary British people that he didn’t think it worthwhile to attend ceremonies marking the 80th anniversary of D-Day, exemplified this detachment.  

If the Tory party is to regain political relevance, it must listen to the nation’s Somewheres – a constituency that remains in flux, and that the Labour Party does not speak for. The lack of enthusiasm for our incoming government is remarkable and telling. The electorate has grown tired of the Tories, but are dubious of a Labour Party who seem to offer nothing but more of the same.

So farewell, Prime Minister Sunak. We wish you well, Anywhere you go.

Photo Credit.

Relatability and Envy

At the Sky News Q&A, both Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer were asked to reveal something about themselves that would show the real them. Starmer was also accused of being a robot by a voter. Sunak waffled on about his love of sugary food. Starmer basically went on autopilot.

Did it work? No. Both just looked stupid.

It was an unfortunate question really. The problem is that politicians have become obsessed with being relatable. They’ll shed their political image like a snake in order to win a few votes. It can be talking about TV shows, playing sports or just mentioning something from popular culture. They have to look like they’re one of us.

It also ties in with a politics of envy. A number of politicians who are wealthy or come from good families play down their backgrounds or hide from it. The idea that someone from a privileged background can reach the level that they do without envy or scorn is somehow unrealistic in today’s society.

It’s All About the PR

For decades, politics has been a PR game. Who would you have a drink with? Who seems nicest? Who has the best family values? Who is funniest? Policies are put aside in favour of a good photo op and a one-liner that does the rounds on social media.

We’ve seen that in this election, particularly from Sir Ed Davey. He’s had fun going paddle boarding and riding roller coasters. There is no substancing in his messaging, despite the fact that he could make gains from the two major parties collapsing. Whilst the Lib Dems do have a manifesto and probably actual policies, it’s overshadowed by Davey’s antics.

It’s not new either. Even Margaret Thatcher was not immune to it. Aides had her hold a calf for photographers, the poor thing died not long later. David Cameron hugged huskies in snow. Neil Kinnock walked down the beach with his wife. Tony Blair met with Noel Gallagher. Everyone has a gimmick.

The problem is that it is clearly not authentic. Margaret Thatcher wasn’t an animal cuddler. David Cameron isn’t a fan of huskies. Neil Kinnock probably doesn’t do long walks on the beach. Tony Blair doesn’t listen to Oasis. Voters don’t want to see their politicians being hip and cool. They want to see them tackling the issues that we elect them to do.

We all know that the Prime Minister has a job to do. They oversee wars, economic crises, terrorist attacks and natural disasters among other things. The real test of a PM is their response to said issues. Nobody cares about what their favourite book or TV show is when such issues arise. Interviewers often like to throw in a soft question, just like a backbench Member of Parliament mentions a new animal sanctuary in their constituency. It just doesn’t fit.

It also assumes that every politician is one of us. Who cares if they don’t watch much TV? Who cares if they speak Latin or Greek? Boris Johnson, a man with a great love of the classics, would often recite Ancient Greek, but he also showed an affability and relaxed nature that hid this. Meanwhile, David Cameron struggled to look authentic when he wanted to ‘hug a hoodie.’ One lasted six years in office, the other three.

Rich or Poor?

This brings me nicely to my next point. Our nation, or at least the media, seems to not particularly like politicians being open about their privilege. If a politician came from a wealthy family or went to a private school, they are expected to flex their working class credentials.

Take Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer. Sunak is the son-in-law of a billionaire and wears very expensive items, and is thus wealthy. When asked about this, he points to the fact that his father was a GP and his mother a pharmacist, two respectable middle class professions. Starmer waxes lyrical about the fact that his father was a toolmaker (cue laughter) and his mother a nurse. What he fails to mention is that his father apparently owned the factory and he attended a private school, though through a bursary.

David Cameron suffered from a similar image problem, as did Boris Johnson in some quarters. Meanwhile, Margaret Thatcher was proud of being a grocer’s daughter and John Major left school at sixteen. Clement Attlee came from a comfortable background, attending a private school and Oxford. James Callaghan came from a working class family and did not attend university. Each of them have varied reputations as politicians.

Contrast this with that of America. Whilst Americans love the idea of the American Dream and pulling yourself up by the bootstraps, they also don’t care as much about class, whether upper or lower. Donald Trump has not once hid that he’s from a rich family, and yet he does not see shame from voters over this.

I frankly do not care if a politician came from a northern council estate like Angela Rayner or was the grandson of a duke like Winston Churchill. I don’t care if they went to a comprehensive or Eton, just as I don’t begrudge a parent for wanting to send their child to a grammar or private school. If they can afford private healthcare, then good for them.

If a politician from a comfortable background is asked about this, they should not downplay it. Instead, they should simply say that their parents worked hard and that they want all people to have the same opportunity.

That is not to say that I think the country would be a perfect place if every MP went to Eton and Oxford. I don’t think it would be perfect if every MP went to a normal school and didn’t go to university. We’ve had good politicians from all backgrounds, and we’ve had bad politicians from all backgrounds.

It does not serve us well to be envious of the rich, or assume that all working class people are good ol’ folk. We should not be desperate for a politician to be a big fan of Game of Thrones or like the same sweets as we do. Politicians should not pretend to be something they are not. I’m not voting for a person’s school or their favourite beverage. I’m voting for who I think has the best ideas.

Which, to be frank, seems to be none of them. Hey, at least I know that Rishi Sunak loves Haribo.

Photo Credit.

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