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Changing Horses in Midstream: Could BoJo be Replaced by Sunak & Would It Save the Day for Tories?

© AFP 2023 / TOBY MELVILLEBritain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak (R) sits beside Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson (C) at a Cabinet meeting of senior government ministers at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London on September 1, 2020.
Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak (R) sits beside Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson (C) at a Cabinet meeting of senior government ministers at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London on September 1, 2020.  - Sputnik International, 1920, 14.01.2022
The British press is speculating about a potential change of leadership in the Conservative Party in the wake of Boris Johnson's apologies for participating in a boozing party on Downing Street amid the pandemic. Rishi Sunak is named as a Tory favourite, but will he be a good choice for the Conservatives if BoJo steps down?
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson faced a grilling over the "partygate" scandal in the House of Commons on Wednesday. The British PM apologised for attending the No 10 garden party in May 2020 amid the first pandemic lockdown, adding that he thought it was a "work event" and that he "went outside for 25 minutes" to thank his staff.
Johnson has faced a string of challenges over the last few months, including a Tory sleaze scandal, a backbench rebellion over COVID-19 rules, allegations of lockdown-breaching No 10 Christmas parties in 2020, and a Tory by-election loss in Shropshire. Piling up scandals prompted speculations that the PM might be facing a leadership challenge.

Sunak: the Tory Favourite?

The Telegraph notes that Sunak is "the favourite to replace Mr Johnson at No 10 according to bookmakers and polling of the public". Earlier this month, nearly a half of Tory respondents polled by YouGov for Sky News said that Sunak would be a better party leader than UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

"I do believe it will shortly be time for a change of prime minister in the UK", believes Matthew Gordon-Banks, ex-Tory MP. "I never expected Boris Johnson to fight the next election as Conservative Party leader and a large portion of the public and the Conservative Party now think the same".

He thinks that Sunak "will make a very good prime minister": "He is a man of substance, intellect, ability and is widely liked", Gordon-Banks emphasises. "Many of his qualities are not shared by the current incumbent. I do think Mr Sunak has wide public support and appeal".
The former conservative MP does not expect Sunak to "challenge" Boris Johnson, explaining that is not really in the chancellor's nature. However, Sunak is likely to be "available when Mr Johnson decides to stand down, possibly later this year but certainly by next year".
Meanwhile, British media outlets have drawn attention to Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak having skipped the "awkward grilling" of Boris Johnson on Wednesday and instead travelled 200 miles from London to discuss a jobs announcement.
The Daily Mail pointed out that unlike other members of BoJo's team Sunak did not stand by the PM but laconically remarked on Twitter on 12 January that Mr Johnson was "right to apologise" over the party scandal.
In contrast, yet another potential successor to Johnson, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, wrote in support of the prime minister: "The PM is delivering for Britain – from Brexit to the booster programme to economic growth. I stand behind the prime minister 100 percent as he takes our country forward". One senior Tory, quoted by the Daily Mail, suggested that Sunak had "done himself a lot of damage" by trying to distance himself from the spat while others pitched in to help.
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson gestures as he speaks during a press conference in London, Saturday Nov. 27, 2021, after cases of the new COVID-19 variant were confirmed in the UK - Sputnik International, 1920, 10.01.2022
Almost Half of Tories Pick Rishi Sunak as 'Better Party Leader' Over Boris Johnson, Poll Shows

Why Sunak Might Not Be the Best Tory Option

Sunak remains one of the most plausible candidates to replace Boris Johnson. Martin Kettle, a Guardian associate editor, noted in his latest op-ed that the chancellor has done remarkably well in recent Sky/YouGov and Observer/Opinium polls. Many find him "far better" for the Tories in a general election than either Johnson or Truss, according to Kettle.

"[Sunak] would be the first person of Asian heritage, and the first person of colour, to become prime minister and to lead a major British political party", wrote the journalist. "That would be another sign, if one were needed, of the immense capacity of the Tory party to adapt to social and cultural change. Other parties can only watch in frustrated envy".

Yet, there is more to Sunak's success than meets the eye, Kettle notes, calling him "the unknown prime minister". According to The Guardian editor, Sunak's ascent has been "unusually rapid": he entered the House of Commons in 2015 and has only been a minister since 2018. In a word, Sunak is "extremely inexperienced", the journalist writes, adding that this is something that many Tory MPs agree upon.
"The Tory party should not deceive itself about Sunak", Kettle highlighted. "Electing him would be an act based on hope rather than experience. Given that this is what the party also did in choosing Johnson, it is something of which they should be particularly wary".
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