More problematic is Sunak’s wealth, acquired during a career at Goldman Sachs and hedge funds, and his wife’s much larger fortune. She comes from one of India’s wealthiest families and was for years a ‘non-dom’, the highly dubious status by which someone who lives in England most of the time can technically be undomiciled and avoid income tax. On top of that, the saying goes that he who wields the assassin’s knife never wears the crown. This was not the case with Margaret Thatcher when she challenged Edward Heath for the Tory leadership in 1975, but it was true of Michael Heseltine when he challenged Thatcher in 1990, bringing her down but not succeeding . Sunak brandished the knife when, finally having enough of Johnson’s incompetence and bumbling lies, he resigned as Chancellor and precipitated the cascade of resignations that forced Johnson to resign. But since most members of the Conservative Party regret Johnson’s departure and even want him back (which tells you everything you need to know about these members), this is held against Sunak.
Our outgoing Prime Minister has set new standards for vulgar demagogy, crying out for a Brexit he never seriously believed in. But while pandering to the crowd sometimes signifies nativist fanaticism, as seen today from Hungary to Arizona, it doesn’t have to be. The latest incarnation of the Conservatives shows this. Americans sometimes speak of English racism, anti-Semitism, misogyny, etc., to which I timidly point out that in 1868 we had a Prime Minister called Disraeli, and in 1979 we had one called Margaret. Fifty years ago, a hundred years after Benjamin Disraeli had reached the top of the greasy pole, as he called it, Barry Goldwater looked back with regret on his landslide defeat in the 1964 presidential election and declared that he did not think that the American people were ready for a president with a Jewish name. Whatever else is said about Goldwater, he could have been there.
And whatever else is said about the Conservatives today, with all their populist Europhobia and intermittent chauvinism, they are clearly not a white nationalist party. They were once the party that represented the British Empire, and that arch-imperialist (and racist) Sir Winston Churchill said at the last Cabinet meeting he chaired before stepping down as Prime Minister in 1955 that the Tories are expected to fight for the next election on the slogan ‘Keep England White’. Not only was it not kept white, but the old Empire got some sort of revenge. Bruno Maçães is a Portuguese politician turned prolific expert. He listed the last three British politicians who served as Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sajid Javid, Rishi Sunak and Nadhim Zahawi, and said there is no other European country where three men with such names could have been successive finance ministers. Of the original eight MPs who stood for this contest before the numbers were reduced to two, only two were male and white. Nor can conservatives be called sexist. As I write, Liz Truss is the overwhelming favorite to win, which would make her the third female Prime Minister we have had, all Tories. As you may have noticed, you Americans have yet to elect a woman president.