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Before his appointment as chancellor almost exactly twelve months ago, only the most avid Westminster watchers knew much about the young Tory backbencher Rishi Sunak.
But his elevation to one the great offices of state was swiftly followed by suggestions that Boris Johnson’s new right-hand man could be a Conservative leader-in-waiting.
Since entering 11 Downing Street, Sunak has reportedly drawn on the expert advice of a wide circle of confidants, including former chancellors George Osborne, Philip Hammond and Nigel Lawson.
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Other high-profile members of what The Sunday Times’ Tim Shipman calls the “Sunak brains trust” include Olivier Blanchard, a former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund, and Jason Furman, who chaired Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers.
According to political editor Shipman, “Tory MPs say he has been one of the most accessible chancellors, something some interpret as sensible forward planning by a politician who might one day want their votes in a leadership election”.
Sunak has also wooed the media and recently “ate out to help (himself) out with 23 key media players”, including Rupert Murdoch and the editors of The Sun and The Sunday Times, says The New European’s Tim Walker.
And the charm offensive seems to be winning over the public too. YouGov polling has found that Sunak is among the most recognisable politicians in the country and - perhaps more importantly - the most popular Conservative.
The challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic pose a major test for the chancellor, however.
Sunak faces a “mind-boggling array of problems” ahead of next month’s budget, says The Telegraph, as he tries to put the UK economy on the path to recovery and fix the public finances while supporting individuals and businesses hit by the pandemic.
With tough decisions ahead, some pundits are putting low odds on Sunak emerging with his reputation unscathed.
“If there were a leadership election this year he’d be a serious contender”, writes journalist Max Liu in on article on the Betfair site. “But the longer Johnson stays on, the less appealing a successor Sunak is likely to become.”
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