Rishi Sunak’s Truss issue
The race has now narrowed to two contenders, former Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.
It is no secret why India, particularly its news-consuming chattering class, is watching the developments in the United Kingdom’s Conservative Party with a great degree of interest. The tussle for the party leadership will determine who will succeed Boris Johnson as Prime Minister, and there is a very real chance that it could be a person of Indian origin. The race has now narrowed to two contenders, former Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss. Sunak had topped each one of the eliminative polls among Tory MPs until now, which were held in succession until only the two of them remained.
On the face of it, this may suggest that the young and charismatic politician – who is married to Infosys founder NR Narayana Murthy’s daughter – is a shoo in. But politics is anything but simple as that, and Truss, who seemed out in the cold in the early rounds, has come back with great vigour. She is now regarded by some pundits as the favourite to win the race. One reason why Truss could be favoured is because she is considered by many in the party rank and file, who will now be called on to vote, to be the best candidate to unite the party going forward. She has also confronted Sunak on his economic policies, arguing against his so-called economic conservatism, and promising a return to the kind of tax-cutting, business-friendly, neo-liberalism that marked the rule of Margaret Thatcher. While this may involve huge and counter-productive borrowing at this juncture, her position appears to be striking a chord with her party rank and file, even if Sunak’s relatively less adventurist economic strategy is arguably more appropriate for the times.
If this election had been held many months ago, it is probable that Sunak would have been the runaway favourite. The so-called ‘scandal’ about his wife’s non-domicile tax status and his failure to give up his American Green Card became the fodder of a sustained campaign against him. In fairness, there was nothing illegal about Akshata Murthy’s tax status (which was subsequently altered) or Sunak’s Green Card (which he is highly unlikely to have needed). But there were questions raised about appropriateness over both issues, which eventually set his popularity back. The controversy over tax status also highlighted his wealth, now amplified many times over after marriage; this has also been weaponised with claims that he is too rich and privileged to understand the concerns of those not so well off.
As for Truss, her views have changed over the years. She has transformed from being an anti-Thatcherite to becoming a Tory right-winger. She opposed Brexit only to become one of its fierce supporters. As a former member of the Liberal-Democrat Party, she was arguably once opposed to most of the policies that the Conservative Party holds dear. Both she and Sunak were a part of Johnson’s inner circle. So, it is unlikely that either of them represent a departure from what the former Prime Minister stood for. Both promise a good deal that is different in terms of style and composure. But in terms of hard policy, there may not be much that is different. As the saying goes, there are times when the more things change, the more they remain the same.