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London Eye: Four reasons Rishi lost

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By Sanjay Suri  Sept 5, 2022 9:24:11 PM IST (Updated)

After such a prolonged and intensely viewed race, the inevitable question does arise, for those interested in Rishi Sunak, just why he did lose, considering he clearly was the better candidate of the two. Four reasons stand out-

In the end in a race like this it’s the winner takes all, there is no silver medal, even though the number of votes Rishi Sunak won was a silver lining.

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Liz Truss won 57 percent of the votes, making the winning margin less than pollsters had predicted. But a winning margin of 20,000 or so was still substantial for Truss.
For Liz Truss, the question is what she will now do as Prime Minister. For Rishi Sunak, uncertain questions about his political future. But after such a prolonged and intensely viewed race, the inevitable question does arise, for those interested in Rishi, just why he did lose, considering he clearly was the better candidate of the two.
Four reasons appear to stand out:
The first thing we probably said about Rishi Sunak that we thought could well be the last might not quite have been true, though we are admittedly into speculation here. Had Sunak been white, blonde and blue-eyed, would he have been PM? Possible, but what the result does bring out is that a very large number of Conservative voters are not racist. Those who voted Truss may genuinely have thought her a batter candidate.
Rishi Sunak is clearly of Indian origin, and very much a practising Hindu. He wears a mauli prominently on his wrist, that nobody missed through the debates. He was seen praying at Janamashthami. This is in a country constitutionally Christian. And yet that did not stop 60,000 of the 140,000 Tories who voted from voting for Rishi.
This country has come a long way from its colonial past, and this result takes it a giant step further from that past, even if it did not bring Rishi in as PM. Britain is just not ready for its Obama moment. Perhaps Rishi came in just a generation too early.
Rishi Sunak was undoubtedly damaged by stories of his wealth. He was not just as an outsider but as an excessively rich one. He offered a humble story on his origins that no one really bought, of the poor migrant family that made it in a welcoming Britain. Forget it. It was a rich family that migrated from Kenya, for the father to set up practice as GP and for the mother to own a pharmacy, not just work in one.
That would add up to family income around half-a-million pounds a year in today’s terms, and substantially high earlier too. The vast majority of people in Britain earn less than a tenth of that. And to top that, he became Narayan Murthy’s son-in-law.
He thanked his wife Akshata Murthy at the last hustings in Wembley for getting off her high heels to marry a backpacker. He was always a long way from a backpacker, and got very much more well-heeled since the marriage. His wife’s shares in Infosys are reported to be worth a billion dollars. It didn’t help that she saved on her taxes, legally enough, as an Indian citizen. The Brits think it their birth-right still to live off the world’s money, they don’t like foreigners getting rich off their wealth. A humbler Rishi could have meant a different result.
Boris Johnson hovered over this whole campaign. Not because he stayed on as lame duck Prime Minister, but because of his immense popularity within the Conservative Party. He remained far more popular among voters than either candidate. He was clearly forgiven Partygate as most a minor misdemeanour.
Had this been launched as a three-way contest, it would never have begun; the other two would have been out before the start. But between the two, who contested Johnson, mattered because Liz Truss had remained loyal to Boris Johnson, something she never forgot to remind Boris-loving voters. Rishi Sunak was on the other hand the one who brought Johnson down.
Many Conservative members were never then going to reward Rishi Sunak with Boris Johnson’s job for bringing their hero down. Rishi was on the defensive over this all the way through. He tried to make it up to Boris, but it was too late, it was never going to work, Boris Johnson did not take Rishi’s calls, or reply to his messages, as Rishi admitted. Boris Johnson hit back. If it wasn’t him, he did all he could to make sure it wouldn’t be Rishi either.
Finally, and perhaps not least, Rishi Sunak scored a self-goal and kept scoring it all the way through by way of a misplaced and misdirected election campaign. In the early days of the campaign, the polls had put him ahead of Truss. But then he slid back down. Whatever the weight of the prejudices against him, those were known at the start. His position slid as a consequence of his own campaign.
Dominic Cummings, who was special adviser to Johnson before quitting, and who is no friend of Boris Johnson, declared that Rishi’s “epically bad campaign has melted his brain and he’s about to quit politics.” Forget the colour of the remark, look just at the highlights of the campaign. Rishi tweeted a slick video to start off his campaign to convince some of about 350 MPs. Did he need that general election style stuff to convince some people he knows personally?
The PR platoon he hired then fired an online barrage several times a day for six weeks to win over Conservative members. Asking for example everyone getting the mail to speak kind words about Rishi to two other members. That’s just not the way of the Conservative voter, it’s not the world of the Conservative voter, and Rishi should have known, even if his PR managers did not.
He was fed by his PR managers to sound like a programmed robot. The best from him and that was immeasurably better than the best from Truss – came when he spoke spontaneously.
Could a better campaign have changed the outcome? Perhaps not. But the PR platoon he picked damaged his credibility. It possibly did more harm than good. Rishi appears to have clawed back some support towards the end, but fell 20,000 short.
— London Eye is a weekly column by CNBC-TV18’s Sanjay Suri, which gives a peek at business-as-unusual from London and around
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