Views Columnist Ellie discusses negative public perceptions of the new Prime Minister.
When I think of a Prime Minister, I picture Hugh Grant’s David in Love Actually. The charming and likeable Prime Minister who danced down the stairs to Jump (For My Love) by the Pointer Sisters, stood up to the President, and who loves chocolate biscuits (this aspect of his personality particularly resonates with me). Slightly dorky, slightly bedraggled, but ultimately a statesman who is desperate to do the right thing for the country.
Despite his new campaign video, where he tries to portray himself in a similarly charming light, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has not been able to emulate this character. In a recent poll displayed by the BBC, members of the public were asked how they would describe Sunak in one word, with the most popular word, “rich,” being displayed alongside descriptors such as “c**t” and “twat.” Is this how Sunak wants to be perceived in the early days of his premiership, especially when the Conservative party is in such turmoil?
Sunak has been Prime Minister since 25 October 2022 and has been faced with what many may see as an impossible task. The Conservative party is incredibly internally divided, there is a growing cost of living crisis, and inflation rates have reached a record high of 8.8%. Sunak needs to address these issues, while also winning public support, which is appearing difficult for him. This is clearly seen in a recent opinion poll where his Conservative party only received a 28% vote share, compared to Keir Starmer’s Labour party receiving 44% of the vote. Sunak has his work cut out for him if he wishes to win over the British public, many of whom are already sceptical about his leadership, as they question if he has the mandate to govern. Sunak did not win a general election in order to become Prime Minister, nor a leadership election (as the only other two candidates, Penny Mordaunt and Boris Johnson both dropped out of the race), which places him on the political back foot coming into 10 Downing Street. The early outlook for Sunak is not promising, particularly when his most well-known attribute is evidently his wealth.
During his initial campaign for the leadership, Sunak emphasised how he was raised by hard-working parents who came from a relatively humble background. Despite his use of this in his campaign, Sunak has lived a life of immense privilege. He attended Winchester College where tuition fees start at £45,936 per year. He went on to marry heiress and businesswoman Akshata Murthy, and their combined net worth is estimated at around $810 million – making the couple richer than King Charles. The couple own four homes: a manor house in his Richmond constituency worth more than £2 million, a five-bedroom mews house in Kensington worth £7 million, a flat in South Kensington worth £300,000, and an ocean front penthouse in Santa Monica worth $7.5 million. He has recently spent over £400,000 to renovate his constituency home in order to include a leisure complex – with a spa, a pool and a gym. The Guardian estimated that it would cost over £14,000 annually to heat his pool – which is six times the average household’s energy bill for the year. This is where Sunak is out of touch: it’s difficult for the public to feel that he is able to legislate for them when he does not share the struggles they are facing.
Sunak has tried time and again to prove that he is a man of the people, but each time he has failed. From borrowing a Kia Rio from a Sainsbury’s employee for a photo-op promoting a cut on fuel tax to wearing £490 Prada loafers to a building site, this is not a man who understands the struggles of the average person. The average person does not have that level of disposable income available to them. The average person does not have a billionaire father-in-law who can bail them out at any given opportunity. The average person does not own four separate properties worth millions of pounds. Sunak is out of touch, and this is going to be detrimental to his success during his premiership. People have already started to notice this about him, and this will only continue the longer he is in power.