British PM candidate Rishi Sunak says he is ‘proud’ of his ‘model’ Indian in-laws
The gloves are removed; and most observers thought it would be an all-out fight between Rishi Sunak, 42, and Liz Truss, 46, to become Britain’s next prime minister. The former may have won the trust of his fellow Conservative MPs. But securing the support of the majority of the Conservative party’s roughly 200,000 members is an entirely different proposition.
The most recent survey of Tory members by pollsters YouGov indicated that Truss enjoys 54% approval to Sunak’s 35%. 11% would be undecided.
With ballots mailed to these members, they will have until September 2 to vote. They can do it on paper or online. The result will be announced at 12:30 p.m. London time on September 5.
The Electoral College is expected to start signaling its preferences from the first week of August. Therefore, if Sunak, who is of East African-Indian descent, is to bridge the apparent gap in appreciation among conservative members for him, he does not have much time to do so.
As well as two televised debates on Channel Four and ITV last weekend – which the whole of the UK had access to – behind the scenes, the candidates were listened to and questioned individually by Tory MPs during the first phase of the leadership contest , which involved voting by directly elected Conservative members of the House of Commons only.
Based on the conclusions reached – whether premeditated or after being persuaded – the odd 355 MPs scored Sunak, Oxford and Stanford formerly educated banker first with 137 votes, Truss second with 113 votes and Penny Mordaunt third with 105 votes. The last one mentioned on the basis of the elaborated rules was eliminated, only the first two carrying out the examination of party members.
So it boiled down in the eyes of analysts to a battle between a continuity candidate in Truss, who was opposed to Brexit but now appears to be such an ardent Brexiter as to want to renege on the Northern Ireland Protocol of the Agreement. on Brexit signed with the European Union; whereas Sunak is portrayed as what in British political parlance is described as ‘one nation Tory’ or with an inclusive outlook
Truss also studied at Oxford, where his association was with the Liberal Democrats, not the Conservatives. Now acting Foreign Secretary in ousted Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s lame duck government, she is expected to continue her attack on former Chancellor of the Exchequer Sunak’s refusal to cut taxes. The latter’s argument is that it would be irresponsible because unless the public debt accumulated due to lavish and unbudgeted spending during the Covid crisis is reduced, there will, he argues, be greater inflation.
Already, Britain is in the midst of one of its worst cost of living crises. Prices for energy, food and motor fuels have skyrocketed, making life for a low-income person virtually unaffordable.
But the right-wing Conservative party prides itself on believing in a low tax system. Therefore, Sunak’s logic goes against their natural instincts. Truss’ promise to cut taxes would, Sunak says, create a £15 billion hole in the government’s finances. But a majority of conservatives don’t seem to care. They like the populism of lower fiscal pressure.
Yet it’s not just over tax issues that Sunak has faced fire. His judgment on personal and family matters has been questioned. He retained a green card, issued by US authorities, granting a person permanent residency and the right to work in that country, even after returning to the UK.
Further below the belt was a statement of the tax affairs of his wife Akshata Murthy. Murthy, an Indian and daughter of NR Narayana Murthy, one of the founders of software giant INFOSYS, headquartered in Bangalore, is a shareholder in this company. It derives annual dividends from this participation; and paid income tax on these in India rather than Britain, due to the advantage of a lower rate of tax in this category in India compared to the UK. She, by British law, had the right to do so, so broke no law; and Sunak had declared the circumstances to the Cabinet Office in Whitehall – which raised no objections – before becoming a government minister.
Asked specifically about this during the ITV debate, Sunak replied: “My wife is from another country. It is therefore treated differently. She explained this in the spring and she solved this problem. Murthy agreed to pay tax on his dividends in Britain.
Tax matters are supposed to be top secret in Britain; not to the knowledge of anyone other than the person concerned and Inland Revenue. Johnson losing public esteem since November 2021 and Sunak’s popularity rising as a result, some of the British press suspected that the disclosure of Murthy’s tax status could only have been triggered by “Downing Street” – the code of the Johnson’s office. Murthy was reportedly furious at the embarrassment and left the Chancellor’s official residence for the Sunaks’ private home in Kensington.
The pushes against Sunak also highlighted that INFOSYS was doing business in Russia – a cardinal sin in Johnsonite Britain – because after the Russian invasion of Ukraine it is a pariah state in the West. In the televised exchange, Sunak, who had not yet spoken publicly on the issue, chose to go on the offensive.
“There are also comments about my wife’s family,” he said. “And so, let me tackle this question head-on, because it is worth it; Because I’m incredibly proud of what my in-laws built. My stepfather came from absolutely nothing, and just had a dream and a few hundred pounds that my stepmother’s savings provided him. And with that, he went on to build one of the biggest, most respected and successful companies in the world. That, by the way, employs thousands of people here in the UK,” he said.
He concluded: “Actually, it’s a story that I’m very proud of. As Prime Minister, I want to make sure we can create more stories like theirs here at home.
But will the Conservative Party appoint him prime minister? Whether it does or not – and at the moment the outlook is not bright – one thing is certain. Sunak is unlikely to be defensive about his Indian in-laws. He will take the fight to his adversary.