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Inside politics

Sunak: a fiscal conservative fit for the times?

The PM during his Winchester days. BBC

In the summer of 1998, the owner of Kuti’s Brasserie in Southampton had a word with one of his waiters, says Ben Judah in Tatler. “You’re going to be someone, Rishi,” he told the future prime minister. Sunak was a conscientious boy “from a striving middle-class immigrant family”: his parents, a GP and a pharmacist both born in colonial East Africa to Indian parents, took on extra work to pay for his fees at Winchester College. He was “a conservative in every sense”: a practising Hindu who avoided beef and alcohol, and an unfashionable Tory who wrote about Tony Blair’s plans for a “European Superstate” in the school magazine. At Oxford, he had little of the celebrity Boris Johnson did – he was a “nobody” who made a big thing about drinking Coke at the pub. After graduating, he headed into the world of finance: Goldman Sachs, an MBA at Stanford, then the Mayfair hedge fund TCI.

Sunak is a very different politician from Liz Truss, says James Forsyth, who has been friends with the PM since school, in The Times. The only risks he’ll take are calculated ones. “Driven by information”, he is an admirer of his billionaire father-in-law’s saying: “In God we trust. Everyone else must bring data to the table.” This trait was most evident when he opposed a planned lockdown over Christmas 2021, citing hospitalisation figures from South Africa. Yet the “urtext” for understanding Sunak’s politics is his fiscal conservatism. Even during Covid, he made a point of reminding people that all the borrowing “would have to be paid for in the end”. That wasn’t a popular view, hence Truss beating him in the leadership contest. But after the economic disaster of her premiership, we once again live in “fiscally conservative times”. That will surely play to the PM’s advantage.

☭💰 Sunak’s father-in-law, NR Narayana Murthy, is India’s 41st-richest man, says Judah. Worth $4.3bn, he began life as a Marxist, but on a visit to Bulgaria in 1974 “to see actual existing socialism” he was arrested by border guards and held for five days without food or water. “Cured” of his faith in communism, he returned to India and became one of the founders of the country’s booming IT sector.