Next Tory Leader – Should we get behind the Sunak gamble?

This article first appeared at on 27th March 2020

It should by now go without saying – politics moves fast. Can anyone recall, anywhere, a reputation growing faster than Rishi Sunak?

Six months ago, the 39 year-old MP for Richmond was barely known. When Boris Johnson opted out of a ‘Leaders Debate’ during the general election campaign, he was elevated to the frontline. By mid-February, he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, following the resignation of Sajid Javid.

Now Sunak is being backed at odds of just [3.65] to be Next Conservative Leader and [5.2] to be the Prime Minister after Boris Johnson. Is this a gamble we should be taking seriously – a bandwagon we should be jumping aboard?

First of all, congratulations to those who did so earlier, at best odds of [70.0] and [150.0] in those respective markets. Sadly, I was so consumed by the election and events across the Atlantic that it never crossed my mind until far too late.

Chancellors nearly always worth a punt

No doubt, he has strong credentials. All Chancellors should be taken seriously. Three of the last eight Prime Ministers had already held the post – Gordon Brown, John Major and James Callaghan. The first two moved next door from Number 11, as did Harold MacMillan in 1957.

Moreover, there is little dispute that Sunak has made a very strong start. His response to the coronavirus crisis has been assured and popular – coming across as competent and on top of his brief. In that respect, he seems the perfect foil to his charismatic yet flaky boss, Boris Johnson.

Political momentum can swiftly reverse

Despite all that, it is important to not get carried away. Just as Sunak’s rise demonstrates how quickly a reputation can grow, history tells us they can be destroyed just as quickly. Brown and Major will both testify to that.

So too, more recently, Theresa May. Remember during the parliament before she became PM, Chancellor George Osborne was the favourite to succeed David Cameron. Within two years of masterminding the first Tory majority in nearly a quarter-century, Osborne was no longer even an MP.

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