The things people know – and don’t know – about Britain’s ‘Rishi Rich’

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL November 5, 2022

Britain approaches the 14-day anniversary – November 8 – of Rishi Sunak’s coronation as Conservative Party leader and prime minister with some relief…and a lot of questions.

Relief that we got through a whole week without a change in prime minister, chancellor, foreign secretary etc. As for home minister, well, Suella ‘Cruella’ Braverman remains in office and the jury’s out on how grateful the nation must be for her.

But it’s the man at the top who’s drawing the most attention, mostly for keeping his head down. As Mr Sunak heads to COP27 this weekend, many are asking: Who is Rishi Sunak? Who exactly, other than the perma-tanned guy in sharp suits, with the nickname “Rishi Rich”?

In ‘The Times’, London, Queen Mary University politics professor Philip Cowley has a fascinating piece on voters’ sketchy knowledge (paywall) of the new prime minister. Having got YouGov to test the public’s reaction to six statements – some true, others false – about his background, Professor Cowley was able to extrapolate on what people have noticed about Mr Sunak and what they haven’t.

He found that people had noticed “he’s young, wealthy and privileged. Sixty-six per cent said the statement that he was the youngest PM for over 200 years was true (as it is, with Sunak the second of all time only to Pitt the Younger); 53 per cent believed the statement that he was richer than the King was right (again, as it is, albeit mostly as a result of his wife’s wealth); 55 per cent said that he had gone to Winchester (as he did).”

Also, they didn’t think he was the son of a bus driver. That’s another way of saying they didn’t confuse him with former chancellor and health secretary Sajid Javid or London mayor Sadiq Khan, both sons of bus drivers. A point to consider on that front is whether or not Mr Sunak’s fervent Hinduism somehow comes through to the average British voter, as distinct from Mr Javid and Mr Khan’s names. (I say names rather than any discernible religious practice because both Mr Javid and Mr Khan do not seem to talk about their faith and beliefs in the way of Mr Sunak.)

Most people in the YouGov survey thought Mr Sunak was Britain’s first ethnic minority prime minister, when in fact that was Benjamin Disraeli, an ethnic Jew who had converted to Christianity. (I’m not sure that anyone should be upset to be included as one of the collective, so to speak, but that is another discussion. As the professor points out, comedian and author David Baddiel’s book is titled ‘Jews Don’t Count’.)

One of the most interesting points to emerge from the study of voters’ knowledge of Mr Sunak was that roughly 30 per cent of people answered “don’t know” to all six questions. This suggested some fairly basic bits of information about Mr Sunak was still not in the public domain, noted the professor.

Not least the fact that he is an arch Brexiteer, someone driven by ideological conviction to campaign in 2016 for Britain to leave the European Union.

Mr Sunak’s politics, it seems, remains pretty under the radar. So far.

We’ll next examine why.