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Bright, young Indian rises through Tory ranks

Rishi Sunak was asked by Boris to bat for Tories at election debates

By Amit Roy in London

  • Published 3.12.19, 2:25 AM
  • Updated 3.12.19, 2:25 AM
Rishi Sunak
Rishi Sunak (Pic: Twitter @RishiSunak

Rishi Sunak has been both hailed and abused as the Tories’ “next bright young thing” after the 39-year-old Indian origin chief secretary to the treasury was asked by the Prime Minister Boris Johnson to take on a stellar role in representing the Conservative Party in two live TV debates with rival political leaders.

He batted for the Tories in a live debate on BBC TV on Friday, and did so again on ITV on Sunday night.

Boris and his all powerful chief of staff at Downing Street, Dominic Cummings, did not ask the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, who is nominally the most senior person in the cabinet after the Prime Minister. Nor the chancellor Sajid Javid, nor the home secretary Priti Patel, nor any number of senior cabinet ministers.

Sunak, who is 39 and is married to Infosys founder N.R. Narayana Murthy’s daughter Akshata, has been an MP only since 2015. He took over Richmond in Yorkshire, a seat previously held by William Hague, a former Tory party leader and foreign secretary.

In June 2017, Sunak held the seat with a majority of 23,108, which in British terms is massive since most constituencies have about 80,000 voters.

With opinion polls indicating that the Tory lead over Labour is narrowing in the closing days of the election campaign, Sunak has been given an onerous task defending the government’s record on everything from the National Health Service to security in the light of the London Bridge atrocity, immigration and Brexit.

He was best when he spoke from the heart on the BBC about his commitment to the NHS as he addressed a member of the audience: “Lucy, I grew up in an NHS family. Dad was a GP, and my Mum was a pharmacist. I spent my entire childhood working in her pharmacy and I saw first-hand what an unbelievable difference the NHS made to my parents’ patients and their lives. They became part of our family.”

And on whether EU and non-EU immigrants should have equal access, he told Mahesh Nair from Aberystwyth: “Good evening Mahesh, I am the son of immigrants — my parents came here 60 years ago and I am a British Asian. I swore my oath as an MP on the Bhagavad Gita which is the Hindu holy scripture. So I am living proof that this is a welcoming, meritocratic and tolerant country.”

In a curious way, the greatest compliment paid to Sunak came when he was savaged in The Independent by his political sketch writer, Tom Peck: “The Tories need not worry. Their next bright young thing, Rishi Sunak, is just as shameless as the rest of them.”

He said that “here is poor Rishi, trying to make a name for himself, trying to be the Next Big Thing, standing there and earnestly telling you that we’ve got to leave the EU to sort out the NHS.

“A full-on 42 carat embarrassment. A ritualistic televised humiliation. A bad joke. Still, Sunak will be fine in the end. He’s shown he’s got what it takes to succeed, and that’s a brazen willingness to say and do absolutely anything the Big Boys tell him to, no matter how transparently absurd.”

Sunak was defended by the Express, however, in a report, “ ‘Stop scaremongering!’ Rishi Sunak clashes over Labour NHS for sale ‘conspiracy theory’ ”, which added, “Conservative Rishi Sunak hit out at Labour’s Rebecca Long-Bailey after she accused the Tory Party of wanting to sell the NHS in a US-UK trade deal.”

The London Bridge atrocity, carried out by the convicted Pakistani-origin terrorist Usman Khan, 28, has become a toxic election issue because he was releases half way through his 16-year sentence.

The two people he stabbed to death have been named as Jack Merritt, 25, and Saskia Jones, 23, both Cambridge University graduates who were working for a prisoner rehabilitation programme and trying to help people like Usman.

Announcements by Boris and Priti that they would send back to prison other terrorists who had been released received extensive coverage in the Daily Mail.

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