Is Rishi Sunak the Next U.K. Prime Minister?

How the former chancellor, and other South Asian candidates, came to dominate the nearly all-white Conservative Party.

Kavya Srikanth

July 21, 2022

 Is Rishi Sunak the Next U.K. Prime Minister?

“I have friends who are aristocrats. I have friends who are upper class. I have friends who are working class…well, not working class,” then 21-year-old Rishi Sunak said in a 2001 BBC documentary that’s now making waves in British politics. 

Sunak is running against Foreign Secretary Liz Truss for leadership of the U.K. Conservative Party, following former Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s resignation as the party leader on July 7. The Middle Classes: The Rise & Sprawl documentary clip that has resurfaced features a snippet on why Sunak’s parents sent him to a boarding school that today has an annual tuition of over £40,000. 

The winner of the Conservative Party leadership will de facto become the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. When Johnson resigned, he set off a wave of political chaos. “A turbulent power vacuum is playing out in front of us,” said Michael Kandiah, lecturer in contemporary British history at King’s College London. Following news that Johnson was aware that his former deputy chief whip Chris Pincher had a history of sexual assault, former chancellor of the exchequer Rishi Sunak and former health secretary Sajid Javid both resigned from their Cabinet positions on July 5. Since then, over 50 members of parliament (MPs) resigned in a show of how much they had lost faith in Johnson’s leadership.

After five rounds of voting among members of parliament, Sunak and Truss became the final two candidates in the leadership race for the Conservative Party, colloquially known as the Tories. Sunak won the latest round with 137 votes, while Truss received 113. A recent poll indicates that 14% of U.K. voters support Sunak as the next prime minister, double the percentage of the next highest-ranked candidate. Earlier this year, a YouGov poll tied Sunak for the second most popular Conservative politician, after Johnson. If elected, he would become the first person of color to hold the office of Prime Minister in the U.K. 

So how did this British Indian come to the forefront of a party that is 97% white?