I write as one of the people that persuaded Rishi Sunak to go into politics in the first place. His family, like mine, came from very humble beginnings and migrated to Britain. They were not wealthy people. Like thousands of other Asian migrants to Britain, Rishi’s family watched what little they had very carefully and prospered. What we need in Britain now, and it’s a very Conservative idea, is careful management of what we have and turning it into more. Rather than immediate tax cuts, we need to manage national money over the long term. The conserve in conservatism means voting for Mr Sunak.
Much of this conservation must be economic. The model of the wise but frugal Asian family — you know, the guy you buy your milk from at the corner shop, whom I hope you admire and has a bright word for you every morning — might be the best one for national accounts at a time when everyone’s feeling the pinch. That shopkeeper always tells the truth and watches every penny.
Margaret Thatcher, whom I had the honour of meeting a few times, did that too. Given his family background, Sunak has much in common with her.
We’ve had far too much dressing up in my beloved party in recent years. We need to focus on what’s beneath, what you see when you look at your bank balance and wonder, where did it all go, and so fast?
We cannot run a fairly beleaguered economy completely like a corner shop, and here is exactly where Mr Sunak’s experience in high finance comes into play.
Britain deserves a leader who can add up. It will affect the standard of living of millions over the next few years.
People who should know better have criticised Sunak’s pledge to cut the basic rate of income tax from 20 per cent to 16 per cent by the end of the next parliament. Such criticism misjudges the relationship between spending restraint now and wise spending later. This is a very specific thing in the type of Asian family from which Rishi hails. It is how thousands of people came to the UK in the 1970s and prospered.
Like me, many came with only £10 in their pockets. They educated their children to become doctors or lawyers. They are serving you now, just as Mr Sunak will if he becomes prime minister.
Growing that £10 is what the country now needs to do. No one wants to pay too much tax while that happens. I’m sure that if Mr Sunak wins the leadership election he will institute a full-scale reform of all tax schedules, as well as make the other necessary changes to unleash wealth creation for all of Britain.
Rishi may be caricatured as a Goldman Sachs master-of-the-universe, but he’s more like that corner shop guy, trying to make ends meet and grow our economy. That is where he comes from, and actually it’s the same place as grocer’s daughter Mrs Thatcher.
When I think of Rishi, I’m reminded of a famous line or two by that acerbic but brilliant British writer Alexander Pope: ‘Happy the man, whose wish and care / A few paternal acres bound, / Content to breathe his native air, / In his own ground.’
That’s what he’s like and that’s what he’d deliver for Britain. He will fight like a tiger to protect that ground, in terms of national security as well as the economy.
It’s not just about money management. It’s also about what kind of country we want to become; somewhere that’s fast, agile and ready to capitalise on the opportunities that come our way.
We need a leader who can inspire, someone who — like Obama did in the United States — can answer the difficult questions about all aspects of national life. Rishi Sunak is that leader.
Lord Popat is a Conservative peer and the Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy to Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo