Exeter, Devon UK • Apr 22, 2024 • VOL XII

Exeter, Devon UK • [date-today] • VOL XII
Home Comment Can anyone become Prime Minister?

Can anyone become Prime Minister?

As the UK takes on its fifth PM in six years, Charlie Gershinson evaluates Rishi Sunak's rise to power and whether this implies that anyone can do it.
5 mins read
Written by

Can anyone become Prime Minister?

Image: PublicDomainPictures via Pixabay

As the UK takes on its fifth PM in six years, Charlie Gershinson evaluates Rishi Sunak’s rise to power and whether this implies that anyone can do it.

With this being our fifth UK prime minister in six years, some may be starting to feel the position has gained a similar turnover rate to that of a high school substitute teacher. As Rishi Sunak prepares to undertake what is perceived to be the most privileged position in British public life – being allowed to gaze upon Lulu Lytle’s gold wallpaper – it may be worth questioning how hard it is to become prime minister. And at this rate, could anyone of middling ability – even a graduate student – be capable of attempting the role?

To use our current leader as a case study, let’s investigate his academic credentials. Rishi was head boy of the elite Winchester College and an Oxford PPE student before acquiring his MBA at Princeton University- his educational pedigree seemingly only marginally more illustrious than the average Exeter student. However, as those of an older generation may be prone to say, education has very little bearing on the world of work. This adage may indirectly apply to Mr Sunak’s real-life experience. While Rishi Sunak has certainly applied himself to his business career, with experience at Goldman Sachs and the Children’s Investment Fund Management before being hired by his tech-mogul father-in-law Narayana Murthy, his political career has potentially been one of good luck rather than grit and hard work.

His political career has potentially been one of good luck rather than grit and hard work

His start as an MP came replacing Conservative grandee William Hague in his safe seat of Richmond (Yorks). Rishis’ rise to power thereafter was sudden and abrupt after providing a critical endorsement to Boris Johnson during his 2019 leadership campaign. Along with fellow young MPs Oliver Dowden and Robert Jenrick, Mr Sunak was rewarded with a cabinet post as Chief Secretary of the Treasury. Becoming Chancellor of the Exchequer’s deputy after only four years in Parliament then enabled Sunak to be catapulted into No. 11 only seven months later after Sajid Javid’s resignation. With popular furlough and eat-out-to-help-out policies enacted under his chancellorship, Mr Sunak was on track to seemingly become the most popular chancellor since Gordon Brown. Whilst he lost the summer leadership contest to Liz Truss, he was elected by the Conservative parliamentary party less than two months later. All this is to say that Mr Sunak’s political career has been marked largely by potentially being in the right place at the right time.

Does this run of good luck qualify him as a successful or effective prime minister, however? Given the febrile, even sulphurous, atmosphere the Conservative Party currently finds itself in, Sunak’s chances of survival – never mind proving to be a successful premier – rely entirely on his political skills and reflexes. Given that Mr Sunak lost his only competitive election to Liz Truss who subsequently lost – as aptly put by Sir Keir Starmer – to a lettuce, these skills can be appropriately put into serious doubt.

Mr Sunak was on track to seemingly becoming the most popular chancellor since Gordon Brown

Looking at the new prime minister’s recent strategic moves, doubts over his political skills can be justified. His appointment of Suella Braverman as home secretary, despite resigning from that position six days prior due to multiple breaches of the ministerial code because of security concerns, has been marked as proof of a cynical deal in return for Braverman endorsing the now-prime minister to ensure he would not be challenged from the right of the party by either Boris Johnson or Penny Mordaunt. While this could be seen as a smartly cynical move, it has unnecessarily created a political firestorm for Mr Sunak. His government must justify why someone who proved to be a risk to national security deserves to return to that same privileged position.

This political backfire comes as the government must find enough spending cuts to fill an eleven-figure fiscal black hole for the giddily anticipated medium-term fiscal plan. With fears of ten-to-fifteen per cent spending cuts overall government departments, including the NHS, would be politically untenable for Conservative MPs. It could very well be that Mr Sunak is unable to command the confidence of this unruly rabble.

So could any grad student become prime minister at this rate? The answer is probably more likely to be yes than no. But, not because a twenty-something-year-old would be qualified in the slightest to act as head of government. The case is simply that they would have as much chance of stamping their authority on this Conservative party as even the current prime minister.

You may also like

Subscribe to our newsletter

Sign Up for Our Newsletter