The Unexpected Rise of Rishi Sunak

U.K. citizens are finding comfort in the Chancellor’s well-informed nerdiness during an uncertain time.

Rishi Sunak Boris Johnson
Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak (left) speaks beside Prime Minister Boris Johnson at a news conference addressing the government’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak, on March 17, 2020. (Matt Dunham/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)

Kiran Misra


April 28, 2020


12 min

After Rishi Sunak declared that the people of the United Kingdom “would not face this [coronavirus crisis] alone,” and that the government would step in to pay 80% of salaries so that businesses can retain their employees, many started speculating that the new Chancellor of the Exchequer could be a strong candidate for prime minister. Compared to the rumpled Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Sunak’s informed and empathetic response to the coronavirus has made him a rising star in British politics. This, combined with Instagram photos of the Chancellor hard at work at home in a hoodie, has earned him an Andrew Cuomo-esque round of thirsty media coverage and the nickname “Dishy Rishi” for his charming good looks. Nationally, Sunak is now unimaginably popular across the political spectrum.

“Now, more than any time in our recent history, we will be judged by our capacity for compassion,” Sunak said in his first press conference as Chancellor. “We want to look back on this time and remember how, in the face of a generation-defining moment, we undertook a collective national effort — and we stood together.”

Sunak’s recent political rise (he has 6:1 odds to lead the party) seems to be a combination of lucky timing, charisma, and a well-informed nerdiness people find comforting in this era of extreme uncertainty. Johnson returned to work Monday after spending early April on the sidelines recovering from COVID-19. While Johnson was making jokes about shaking the hands of coronavirus patients and relying on “herd immunity,” Sunak quickly put together and implemented an unprecedented plan.  

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