UK gives exemplary Civics 101 lesson: Rishi Sunak sworn in as Prime Minister
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (UK) gave the world an exemplary lesson in citizenship education – more commonly known as Civics 101–on Tuesday, Oct. 25. In well within two hours, network television depicted the seamless transition from an outgoing to an incoming head of government presided over by a monarch-head of state.
First, outgoing Prime Minister Liz Truss delivered a brief valedictory in front of 10 Downing Street, her official residence. She then walked over to her family – her husband and two daughters – who were waiting at the curb. With her husband, she boarded a car that brought her to Buckingham Palace, a mere 1.28 kilometers away that seemed even closer as they were guided by a relay of motorcycle escorts.
Her meeting with King Charles was off-camera, but Buckingham Palace promptly issued a statement that her resignation was “graciously accepted.” Then Rishi Sunak, chosen by the Conservative Party to succeed her, was ushered in to meet with King Charles III, the head of state, who forthwith appointed and swore him in as the new prime minister and head of government.
Sunak boarded an SUV van and was escorted for the brief ride to Downing Street by a phalanx of motorcycle riders. He stood in front of his new official residence to deliver his inaugural speech. He said:
“I will place economic stability and confidence at the heart of this government’s agenda. This will mean difficult decisions to come…I fully appreciate how hard things are. And I understand too that I have work to do to restore trust, after all that has happened. All I can say is that I am not daunted. I know the high office I have accepted and I hope to live up to its demands.”
Only last Sept. 19, the UK was also at the center of global attention during the funeral of Queen Elizabeth. She died two days after swearing-in Liz Truss who served for only 44 days, the shortest tenure of a British premier in recent memory.
Recall that Liz Truss succeeded the flamboyant Boris Johnson who was forced out of power by a series of controversies including what Vogue describes as “the infamous so-called party gate scandal involving social gatherings at Downing Street at the height of lockdown.”
Johnson succeeded Theresa May in mid-2019 after the latter’s failure to secure an agreement with the European Union on the UK’s departure from the alliance that became popularly known as Brexit. He led the Conservative Party to a massive victory that gave them 365 out of 650 seats in the House of Commons. Presently, the Tories, as the Conservatives are popularly called, enjoy a 161-seat cushion over their Labor Party rivals.
Hence, the selection of Sunak was carried out swiftly, as soon as it became evident that he was the popular choice, although Johnson also figured in the vetting stage.
Sunak has many distinctions. He is the first prime minister of color and, at 42, the youngest, since David Cameron who was 43 when he took office a few years ago. Tony Blair was also 43 when he became prime minister in 1997. William Pitt the younger was just 24 when he took on the role in 1783.
Parenthetically, Barack Obama was elected as the first African-American President of the United States in 2008 at the age of 47.
Sunak was born to an Indian family in UK’s Southampton, the son of a pharmacist mother and a national health service general practitioner.
He earned an MBA degree at Stanford University as a Fulbright Scholar and completed his undergraduate studies at Lincoln College, Oxford. He pursued an investment banking career before entering politics: analyst for Goldman Sach; partner at Children’s Investment Fund Management; and at Theleme Partners, also a hedge management firm. He also was a director of the investment firm Catamaran Ventures owned by his father-in-law, Indian business leader N.R. Narayana Murthy, who founded Infosys, now a global business process outsourcing behemoth..
Sunak was elected as member of Parliament in 2015, supported the Brexit initiative in 2016, and stood behind erstwhile prime minister Theresa May through her unsuccessful attempts to secure a Brexit agreement. He was appointed by Boris Johnson as chief secretary to the Treasury in 2019 and as chancellor of the Exchequer, widely viewed as the second most powerful political post at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. He launched the “Eat Out to Meet Out”program in support of businesses and similar initiatives to cushion the crushing effect of the pandemic.
Sunak’s ascendancy, observed PBS broadcaster Malcolm Brabant, has brought about renewed confidence in the UK’s image in the global community. He said further: “His win comes on an important day for Hindus, Diwali, the Festival of Light. A practicing Hindu, Sunak lit candles on Downing Street on this day two years ago.”
Jane McGowan, a British teacher noted: “It will be nice to get a bit of stability to the country. He was a very good chancellor of the exchequer, and he did lots of really good things during Covid and the lockdown. I think he could be a very safe pair of hands.”
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