It turned out to be an odd contest, between the clearly average Liz Truss, and the far more impressive Rishi Sunak. As expected, and predicted, the second best of the two candidates won.
Did he lose by those 20,000 or so votes because he was Indian-looking? A tempting question, even if hopelessly speculative. But it is heartening that Rishi did not lose as badly as some polls had suggested. Truss won 57 per cent of the votes. That tells us at the very least that a huge chunk of voters was obviously not racist. Many would have voted for Truss because they thought her the better candidate.
Rishi had seemed even more promising at the start of the campaign, and in the early days, he was ahead in the polls. He appears to have lost his way through the six weeks of campaigning. He did claw back voters towards the end, but that came too late.
Rishi would doubtless have been better for Britain in dire need of both experienced and imaginative leadership at a time when it is facing massive energy costs and its economy sliding downwards fast. It will now be for Liz Truss to steer the country through as Prime Minister. She looks an unconvincing captain.
Rishi slid after his election campaign produced a series of self-goals. As the hustings progressed, Rishi Sunak clearly was not doing his homework. Looking perhaps too closely at his slide in the opinion polls, he took to offering the same clichés rather than addressing issues. It was the projection of a man who had told himself he had lost before he had.
Consider the first step of his election campaign, the slick video on himself he tweeted the day after Boris Johnson resigned. That video had obviously been prepared far earlier, and his ‘Ready4Rishi’ website registered even earlier. He had been preparing long before he provoked Boris Johnson’s resignation to have a go at his boss’s job. That may have been fair politics, but he seemed to go about it in ways that proved spectacularly misplaced.
In the first round, his campaign had to be aimed only at 350 party MPs, whom he had all met. He needed to speak to them; they were not going to be persuaded to vote for him through a slick video presentation of himself. The campaigning was too slick, guaranteed to turn away more of his colleagues than he could win over. He led that vote among MPs, but never quite got to the halfway mark.
It got worse in the second round of campaigning among party members. The PR team he had engaged again relied on the online way. Messages went out day after day, several times a day, asking members to do such things like speak to two other party members on his behalf. That just is not the style of Conservative Party voters. The elderly voter living in the countryside was never going to be persuaded this way; if anything it would reinforce an existing prejudice that the world of Rishi Sunak was a world away from theirs or from the one they wanted.
Liz Truss never had much to say, but she seemed more like one among the typical Conservative voter. She gained advantage steadily all the way through simply by not doing the supposedly smart things that Rishi Sunak’s PR platoon was doing for him.
Truss was lucky to have Boris Johnson on her side. 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 has remained far more popular than either candidate: this could never have been a three-way contest, the other two would have been out before the start.
But he mattered for those two because Liz Truss remained loyal to Boris Johnson, Rishi Sunak was the one who brought him down. Conservative members were never then going to reward Rishi Sunak with Boris Johnson’s position as a reward. Truss played upon that, and Rishi was defensive all the way through. Rishi 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 said. Boris Johnson found his own way of hitting back. Boris Johnson did more than his bit to make sure that if it wasn’t him, it wouldn’t be Rishi either.
Rishi’s well-earned image of great wealth did not help. His was never a rags to success story of the kind he offered. His parents arrived rich from Kenya, his father was a GP, his mother owned a pharmacy, she did not just work in one. That meant a family income ten times higher or more already than the average income in Britain.
To top that he married Narayan Murthy’s daughter, whose shares in Infosys are said to be worth a billion dollars. He thanked Akshata Murthy for getting off her high heels to marry a backpacker. Rishi was never the backpacker sort, and his wife saved on paying taxes, legally enough, taking advantage of her status as an Indian citizen. The Brits believe the world owes them continuing wealth, they don’t like outsiders making or saving millions off the British economy.
It was a hard haul from the start, his personal ways made it yet more difficult.