The Prime Minister who was marked out for greatness by his teachers aged just 13

  • 25 October, 2022
  • Politics
  • Publications

Published in The Daily Mail on 25 October 2022.

Rishi Sunak’s elevation to the top of British politics comes as little surprise to me. In 2020, shortly after Boris Johnson appointed him Chancellor of the Exchequer, I wrote a book about his life and career.

It was clear from the scores of people who contributed that Sunak is a man of many talents. Clever, hard-working, decent and disciplined, he is one of the few MPs in the present House of Commons with the ability to steer the nation through these stormy times.

In working on Sunak’s biography, I was fascinated to learn that teachers from his Hampshire prep school, Stroud, had marked him out for greatness when he was 13 years old.

Olly Case was among his contemporaries in the school between 1989 and 1993 and went on to become a teacher there himself. He said Sunak was ‘talked about; teachers would say: “He’s going to be a Prime Minister”’.

Well, they were right. And those people with an interest in diversity in public life would do well to remember that just as the Conservative Party can boast of having had the first Jewish prime minister in Benjamin Disraeli, and the first woman prime minister in Margaret Thatcher, the rise of Sunak – the first British Asian PM – is further proof that the Tories are the true progressives.

Now that he is running the country, Sunak faces a daunting array of challenges. He must unite his parliamentary party; assemble a Cabinet that appeases his MPs; get to grips with the economy; ensure Britain’s support for Ukraine does not waver; address the political and trade uncertainties in Northern Ireland; and confront cross-Channel illegal immigration. All this while taking the fight to a Labour Party that is surging in the polls and preparing for the next election.

Despite the scale of the mountain to be climbed, I do not think that Sunak will fear it. It is obvious that he can keep a cool head. At the height of the pandemic he often worked 18-hour days and would even forget to eat, so intense was his commitment to his job. This, surely, is the type of leader Britain needs just now.

I am the first to acknowledge that Sunak has his critics. Some accuse him of having torpedoed Boris Johnson’s premiership this summer. He has also been labelled too slick for his own good. And the fact that he grew prosperous as a financier, and then married the daughter of a highly successful Indian businessman, is held against him, too.

Only disaffected MPs and those who indulge in the politics of envy would attack Sunak for his triumphs in life. He got where he is today through aptitude and perseverance. Even so, there is no doubt that another one of his big challenges will be to persuade voters that he is on their side as living costs spiral.

Britain is in a precarious state. The country is crying out for a leader who will offer solutions, not bring more problems. If MPs ensure that Sunak’s life is not made more complicated by their infighting, he will have a chance of steadying the ship in time for the next general election. His fate is in their hands as much as it is in his.

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Order a copy of Going For Broke: The Rise Of Rishi Sunak by Michael Ashcroft is published by Biteback.

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