1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Opinion: Rishi Sunak as PM, let's hope for bland times ahead

DW Zulfikar Abbany
Zulfikar Abbany
October 24, 2022

Given a second chance to select yet another prime minister, the UK's Conservatives shrugged and said, "Okay, Rishi, mate, it's your turn to be Prime Minister." They'll reverse Brexit next, writes DW's Zulfikar Abbany.

British politician Rishi Sunak
Rishi Sunak: I want one of those! A bed in Number 10 Downing StreetImage: Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP/dpa

One is often advised to start with a joke. Or a quote from some respected writer, philosopher or something. But this latest development in British politics is so sad and bewildering that I can only think of seven immortal words uttered by Johnny Rotten.

"Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?" said Rotten.

I won't go into the history of why and when Rotten — then the Sex Pistols singer — said that, but I will say that he said it with a sneer. As was his wont. 

And I can't shake the feeling that there will be multitudes of sneering faces when Rishi Sunak walks into Number 10 Downing Street as the UK's fifth Prime Minister in six years. As he turns and waves to the TV cameras, what will he see and what will he think?   

There will be members of his own party, the Conservatives, commonly known as the Tories at home, and the press pack outside Number 10, Sunak's new — and I hastened to add, temporary — abode.

They will be joking about the sort of dreams that Sunak will have when he finally rests his head on a prime ministerial pillow for the first time, in a bed where only a few nights ago, one imagines Liz Truss, now one of the shortest serving British leaders in history, tossed through sweaty, restless nights in her final days there. 

And when Sunak awakes for his first day in office, will he wonder, "what have I done? Will it have been worth it when it's all over?"

Because it might be over sooner than any of us care to think, or sneer about. 

A toxic tenure for Sunak

There's a voice in my head that's urging me to acknowledge Sunak's being the first PM whose parents migrated to the UK from South Asia. 

As such, Sunak came from relatively average beginnings to get where he is today — but then I challenge myself to define average.

Sunak attended Winchester College, an elite boarding school, and then studied the obligatory P.P.E. Alas not "personal protective equipment," but the degree that all aspiring career politicians take: politics, philosophy and economics. Then he did his MBA — Masters in Business Administration — at Stanford in the United States, joined an investment bank, made millions, married into billions, and scored more of an upper-class accent (and lisp) than most of the rest of us migrant kids can ever hope for, let alone all the kids who grow up on the council estates, places to which the Tories are ever blind. 

Boris Johnson drops out of PM race

You might like to congratulate Sunak on that — but just as many women would rather they weren't referred to as "a female prime minister/astronaut/athlete/head chef" but simply as "prime minister/astronaut/athlete/head chef," a guy like Sunak would rather be known as a Chancellor who got the UK through the pandemic and then a PM who ... who ... sorry. No one is quite sure yet what Sunak must do.

But whatever it is, it's not going to be easy. In fact, as I wrote when Liz Truss resigned, the job of running the UK right now, from within a political party and establishment as broken as the Tories, is as toxic as it gets.

Cheated on Sunak's second go 

Back to those sneering faces in Downing Street then. They know, as well as Sunak should know, if he's even one iota more honest with himself than Truss ever was — as reports have led me to believe — we all know that he was chosen by default, thanks to a sense of fatigue inside his own party and the knowledge that "if we don't prop up Sunak now, we really will get Boris Johnson, the poor man's Churchill, back again. And who is Penny Mordaunt anyway?"  

No, no one actually said that. I'm just imagining the conversations that took place over the weekend when it became clear that two frontrunners in the race to be the next PM were Sunak — and Mordaunt, the leader of the House of Commons. 

Sunak lost to Truss over summer and because she did such a great job, the Tories handed the job onto her runner-up. And these people are supposed to be some of the brightest, most entitled indviduals in the country.

There's one other person who knows all that too: Jeremy Hunt, the current chancellor of the exchequer.

Hunt will be laughing his head off. Because he knows, just as well as Sunak and the rest of the Conservative party knows, that Sunak would now have to have a very, very, very good reason to roll back Hunt's own rollback of the former chancellor's economic plans. That's Kwasi Kwarteng, who was replaced by Hunt a week ago, after his plans caused a market meltdown in the UK.

So, Sunak is in Number 10, while next door at Number 11 Downing Street, Hunt will be the one running the show — just as Sunak did when Johnson was prime minister. In that sense, Sunak has been cheated out of a fair go. And he'd have to know that. I just don't know why he'd bother, aside from pure ambition.

It's a sad, sorry situation. I may quip about their having done so many U-turns that they may still reverse Brexit. But no, there will be none of that now. There will be no more flips or flops, U-turns or resignations. At least not if they know what's good for the country.  

Sunak will see but one option ahead — and that is to let Hunt get on with his job, while he, Sunak, does his, which is to smile, talk platitudes, and try to survive long enough to make it to the next planned general election, either in May 2024 or at the latest January 2025. 

So let's hope it's bland times ahead, or the only remedy left will be for King Charles III to kick out all the gallahs in Downing Street and run the country himself.

DW Zulfikar Abbany
Zulfikar Abbany Senior editor fascinated by space, AI and the mind, and how science touches people