Why history will judge former UK PM Rishi Sunak kindly

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Why history will judge former UK PM Rishi Sunak kindly

Sunday, 07 July 2024 | PTI | London

Why history will judge former UK PM Rishi Sunak kindly

“I have given this job my all,” said Rishi Sunak in his farewell address as British Prime Minister on the steps of 10 Downing Street and that is likely to be how he goes down in history.

As the UK’s first leader of Indian heritage, the first Hindu and the first of non-white ethnicity, the 44-year-old leaves behind quite the legacy despite presiding over the Conservative Party’s worst electoral performance in history.

His words that “one of the most remarkable things” about modern Britain is that just how “unremarkable” his migrant roots were to the top job will resonate with many, not least a 1.8-million-strong Indian diaspora.

“I think history will be relatively kind to Rishi Sunak; despite the scale of this defeat, I think the analysis will be that he was dealt with an almost impossible hand 12 years in,” says Sunder Katwala, Director of the British Future think tank, reflecting upon the turmoil that Sunak inherited when he took office in October 2022 after 12 years of a Tory government.

“Sunak, I think, will be seen as a man who tried hard to steady the ship in very, very difficult economic, geopolitical conditions. And what he didn't really have was a political recipe that might have required a magic wand, but he did put the country back on an even keel after a very, very chaotic period of government, losing two prime ministers within weeks,” he notes.

It was after Boris Johnson was booted out by his own party in the wake of the partygate scandal of lockdown law-breaking parties in Downing Street and then Liz Truss, voted in by the Tory membership, proved to be a disastrous choice that his party turned to Sunak.

The fact that Johnson chose not to seek re-election and Truss was defeated humiliatingly in a Conservative stronghold while her successor was voted back in with a solid majority in his North Yorkshire seat is also seen as a sign that the electorate blamed his predecessors more than Sunak.

“I've known Rishi for literally a decade, and I like him and his charming wife Akshata very much. They are wonderful people, decent people. He's a very bright man, a very capable man,” shares businessman and peer Lord Karan Bilimoria.

“It is very sad that we've had this historic achievement of an Indian being in Number 10 and yet, he is leaving with the biggest defeat his party has suffered in decades and decades – that's not a proud position to be in. But that said he is a decent man, a bright man, a hardworking man. I don't for one minute doubt his intent; it is just such a shame that it has been such a disappointment,” he says.

The sense of pride in a British Indian having made it to the highest office in the land was visible till the very end, with elderly folk showering blessings and handing prayer beads to Sunak during his campaign visit to the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden, north London, last weekend.

“His legacy will be as the first British Indian prime minister of the United Kingdom. I think that's a hugely symbolic moment,” feels Kevin McCole, Managing Director of the UK Indian Business Council (UKIBC).

“Being part of a Diwali celebration hosted by him at 10 Downing Street was a remarkably touching moment. So, I think that would be Mr Sunak’s legacy, rather than this election. He’s been a great ambassador for the British Indian community, and it really shows Britain at its multicultural best, that Mr Sunak could achieve so much in this country,” he adds.

Meanwhile, Sunak, his Indian wife, their daughters Krishna and Anoushka and the family dog Nova have now moved out of their temporary residence on the most famous street in the country.

From Akshata Murty’s social media posts, the family is back in their home in Richmond, North Yorkshire, where Sunak has promised to serve his constituents as an MP “for years to come”.

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