Rishi Sunak, a 42-year-old British son of Indian immigrants, is set to become the new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. The fifth Conservative in six years to hold that post. By withdrawing from the race Boris Johnson, and the third in the race, Penny Mordaunt, being unable to collect the necessary guarantees in time, the former Minister of Economy has been chosen by the leadership and the parliamentary group of the Conservative Party, without need of a final vote among the affiliates. Minutes before Graham Brady, the president of the 1922 Committee -in charge of organizing the primaries- announced the result this Monday, Mordaunt herself had announced on Twitter that she was throwing in the towel.
When the dust caused in recent weeks, in the country and in his own party, by politicians begins to clear Tories, British citizens will be aware of the historical significance of what happened, regardless of the ideology of the winner or the method with which Downing Street has been achieved. Nearly 75 years after the United Kingdom left India for good one midnight, leaving behind a country divided by sectarian violence and marked by almost two centuries of colonization, a Hindu will be the new prime minister. Sunak is obviously the first to downplay his ethnicity. Like other conservatives whose families one day left the Indian subcontinent, such as Sajid Javid, Priti Patel or Suella Braverman, he prefers that it be his ideas or his actions that prevail in the perception of the citizenry. The image, however, is too powerful to digest in a single day.
Nor will Sunak have much time for celebrations. The markets remain uneasy about the drift of the British economy. After the formality of Liz Truss formally submitting her resignation to Charles III, and the monarch instructing the new leader of the Conservatives to form a government in her name – the first time he has done so in his brief reign – the first great test of the new Executive will take place on October 31.
That is the appointed day for Jeremy Hunt, still Minister of the Economy, to present a plan of budgetary and fiscal measures with which to ensure the will of Downing Street to straighten out the country’s accounts. Hunt, who despite maintaining a public neutrality in recent days in the face of the battle for the leadership of the party, has already shown this Monday his express support for Sunak. Everything suggests that he will remain in office, having managed to win back investor confidence by completely reversing the Truss tax cut. The task ahead, however, is tough. Some taxes may need to be raised, and further cuts in public spending may be necessary. Sunak must now decide whether to raise pensions or social benefits at the same rate as inflation, which is currently at 10.1%, as many of his own deputies are demanding, or moderate that rise to protect public coffers.
The new prime minister is an early supporter of Brexit, but many expect him to curb the warlike ardor displayed by his predecessor, and seek an agreement with Brussels that avoids further aggravating the current confrontation over the Northern Ireland Protocol. He is also a “hawk” when it comes to immigration policy, and his support for leaving the United Kingdom was based, to a large extent, on the demand for greater border control. It is very likely, however, that like Truss, he will seek a way to relax entry rules, when the British economy desperately needs labor in many sectors.
A broken party
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Most of the most relevant Conservative MPs have clung to Sunak to try to prevent the collapse of the party, which most polls place more than 30 percentage points behind the Labor opposition, in the event that new elections were held. general elections. But the wounds are still open. Johnson’s popularity with the grassroots remains high, and the main reason Truss managed to beat the then-former Chancellor of the Exchequer in last summer’s primaries was that many affiliates saw him as the traitor who, by his resignation, had brought about the downfall of the most popular British politician in recent decades. The right wing of the party turned to support a candidate who promised to preserve Johnson’s legacy, and go further, with a radical neo-liberal program of tax cuts and a strong hand with the unions that excited more than half of the militants.
The direct election of Sunak by the deputies will widen the gap between the parliamentary group and the bases, much more radicalized. There is also the feeling that the Conservatives, using their parliamentary majority, have robbed citizens of once again having a say in the country’s destiny. And there is not the slightest doubt that the new prime minister will have the arduous task ahead of him to unify a fragmented party and still hostage to the eternal Brexit. The president of the European Research Group, the eurosceptic current of the party, Mark Francois, had already warned, just an hour before Sunak’s victory was known, that its members would not tolerate a retreat in the confrontation with Brussels.
The Truss experiment was an unmitigated failure, and on this occasion, the right of the party has understood that there would be no second chance. Most of its deputies have supported Sunak, convinced that he is the only one with the knowledge and rigor necessary to straighten the course of the ship and bring some peace of mind to a party that, in recent months – most likely in recent years, since Brexit injected the poison of division and radicalism – has shown an irresistible tendency to suicide.