As UK premier polishes his “Brand Rishi” image, the country slides into recession

Rishi Sunak

When British Conservative Party MPs anointed Rishi Sunak, in October this year, as their new prime minister, he effectually came to power without people having the chance to vote. He took over from Liz Truss who lasted for only 45 days. In fact he was the third prime minister in two months, inheriting a crisis-ridden government. Many demanded general election to end the “musical chairs at the top of government”

This was Sunak whose family avoided paying tax in Britain before he put up taxes on everyone else, the same Sunak whose wife, Akshata Murty, was forced to start paying British taxes after exposure that she had “non-dom” status. Non-doms are individuals who are resident in the UK, but who claim on their tax return that their permanent “domicile” is abroad.

Sunak and his tech heiress wife are worth an estimated US$884 million. Their net worth is thus        almost twice that of King Charles’ personal fortune estimated at $ 448 million. This makes Sunak the richest prime minister in British history.

While doing MBA at Stanford University, he met influential personalities in the multi-billion US tech industry that “left a mark” on him. It was here that Sunak met his wife-to-be Akshata, daughter of Indian billionaire Narayana Murthy who co-founded an IT company. Her shares in that firm are worth $520m, which makes her wealthier than the British monarch.

Back in London, Sunak spent time working at hedge funds. As a partner with hedge fund management firm the Children’s Investment Fund (TCI) he reportedly made millions from a campaign that triggered the 2008 financial crisis. TCI is owned by a company registered in the Cayman Islands. During the first year of the pandemic TCI’s founder paid himself a whopping $ 415m.

Sunak then left TCI to find his own firm Theleme, registered in Cayman Islands, with an initial fund of $649m. He listed his London flat and the fact that his wife owns a venture capital investment company, Catamaran Ventures, which the couple founded in 2013.

As a cabinet minister Sunak had to declare the financial interests of his family (including in-laws) that might give rise to a conflict of interest. Yet, according to the Guardian, Sunak declared only one of the companies that his wife owned. He did not declare other family assets, including a $1,090m joint venture with Amazon in India, owned by his father-in-law.

As finance minister Sunak was condemned after he cut a $24 weekly increase to Universal Credit that was supposed to help the poorest families through the pandemic. More than 200,000 would have fallen into abject poverty as a result of the cut.  Yet few weeks before that Sunaks asked for permission to build a private swimming pool, gym and tennis court at their Georgian mansion where they threw parties with attendants pouring champagne.

They also own other properties such as the $8.5m five-bedroom house in Kensington (west London), an apartment, also in Kensington, that the Sunaks keep “just for visiting relatives”, as well as an apartment in Santa Monica, California.

In certain circles Sunak has been hailed as a victory for diversity in Britain. As first Britain prime minister of south Asian descent, he is seen as representing ethnic minority.

Of course Sunak does represent a minority, not Britain’s black or brown community but his minority class of plutocrats. Privately educated and super wealthy, he is ideologically committed avant-garde for Britain’s oligarchs such as bankers, hedge fund bosses and tycoons whose combined wealth has in recent times shot up by $61bn.

For the broad masses of the underprivileged and vulnerable Sunak only promises widening inequality, frozen wages, escalating cost of living, increased rent and energy prices, food scarcity and ailing National Health Service (NHS). Unsurprisingly, thousands took part in the “Britain is Broken” protest march through central London, organised by The People’s Assembly.

Sunak’s cabinet and Tory front benches are characteristically filled with multimillionaires. He is the richest of the lot, prominent for their class homogeneity. Sunak voted with them to not extend free school meals for Britain’s poor children going hungry at school. Millions are already turning to food bank to feed their children.

The Centre for Cities think tank says nearly 95,000 residents of Burnley (Lancashire) are most exposed to the tremors ripping through the economy.  One elderly couple in their 70’s say they have cut down to roughly two meals a day. Watching television in blankets to cut down on the energy bill is how they envisage their coming winter.

Sunak thus entered 10 Downing at a time when workers are pushing for industrial action. More than 300,000 members of Britain’s largest nursing union voted on taking strike action in a dispute over pay which is lagging behind spiralling inflation. It is the biggest ballot in its 106-year history.

In fact multiple sectors, ranging from education, transportation, and the postal to legal services, as well as ports and telecommunications, have gone on strikes in Britain this year. Over 70-thousand postal workers as well as university staff and teachers walked out of their jobs in Scotland and England. Rail workers staged several strikes this year, including the country’s biggest rail strike in decades during the summer.

While inflation is surging and industrial unrest is picking up, finance minister Jeremy Hunt said the country is already in a state of recession. Annual food inflation in the UK hit 16.2% in October, the highest level since 1977, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS)

Cautious of surging deficits, the UK government adopted a policy of austerity, with disastrous consequences. Real wages fell consecutively for six years. In fact the real wages in Britain are lower compared to 15 years ago, while the corporate media stirs up an image of bogyman asylum seekers and immigrants.

Robots are blamed for taking jobs, yet between 2003 and 2018, the number of automatic car washers declined by 50 percent, while the number of manual car washers increased by 50 percent. It’s rather the people are taking the robots’ jobs. The average UK robot density per manufacturing workers in 2020 was below that of Slovenia and Slovakia. And so the first nation to industrialize with the help of colonial plunder is now the first to deindustrialize. London has turned into a sanctuary for oligarchs from the Middle East and the former Soviet Union.

Rishi Sunak is now aiming at “replacing Real Health Professionals with Robots” with the likely layoff of thousands of health workers and the de facto privatization of Britain’s national healthcare system. He has urged the NHS to embrace the use of robots to cut its workforce by half in a drastic effort to cut costs.

Meanwhile, the surging NHS waiting lists have left a record 2.5m people unable to work due to long-term illness, with additional 133,000 people falling out of the workforce for health reasons in the three months to September alone.

In the meantime, Sunak has resorted to PR campaign to sanitise his public image. While he was finance minister, he hired the social media wizard Cass Horowitz to manage and promote his public image of “Brand Rishi”. Since then, the contents in his social media channels have resembled a celebrity rather than a prime minister.

As the Telegraph puts it, Sunak is known for his slick social media videos, but there is danger of getting sidetracked by all this digital stuff. After all, Brand Rishi may win friends, but it won’t win elections.

Nizar Visram is a commentator from Tanzania. He is reachable at [email protected]

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