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The Political 'Entrepreneur' - Politics as Performance Art!
The British PM is proving to be a striving Laurence Olivier but the problems start when you leave the theatre. And if you want us to let Rishi be Rishi we kind of need to know who the hell Rishi is...
There is a term being bandied about recently amongst the chattering classes and by that I mean the tory-chattering classes. You know the talking heads that natter on amongst themselves about very important things on news programmes and podcasts. Those erudite pundits of the conservative party speak about where its going, what the party wants to accomplish, how well their politicians are doing and what is the next righteous/most expedient path to keep or regain power. And as they assess their representatives a term keeps popping up - ‘the political entrepreneur’.
It seems only fitting that the Tories, those erstwhile conservatives, who transformed themselves from the redoubt of Earls, Dukes and Marquesses to glorify a shopkeeper’s daughter now reach into the business lexicon and bandy about terms like ‘political entrepreneur’. Of course in the curious way of English society there is still a sting in words like entrepreneur for some. Because while they like the money, they are a bit suspicious about the work. Entrepreneurs? Aren’t those the guys who say things like "go fast and break stuff on the way”. But heigh ho we can’t all live in the 19th century like Rees-Mogg. So, who are these political entrepreneurs…
Well we need look no further than that marvellous trio of women - Braverman, Truss and Patel. Brought to us as part of Cameron’s compassionate conservative cohort they’ve taken the politically expedient route and with 2 fingers to Cameron’s compassion schtick, are busily riling up and harnessing the most radical emotions aka anger of the party to their benefit. Because angry people act. Just ask Trump.
To highlight just one, Braverman, (because I can’t bear to talk anymore about Truss and Patel was literally dancing with Farage at the party conference, a sight I fervently wish I could unsee). So then Braverman, she began life as an Erasmus scholar - well not literally. Literally she was born in Harrow, the daughter of Indian immigrants who came to Britain from Africa presumably not during a hurricane. She studied in France, founded The Africa Justice Foundation with Cherie Blair in 2010 became an arch-brexiteer in 2015 and ominous truth sayer about ‘Hurricanes of Immigrants’ coming to steal our children or something like that in Birmingham in 2023. Quite a journey.
Through political expediency and jockeying for position these ladies are trying to claim the 20/25% of the party who are deeply anti-immigrant (the red wall and fervent Brexiteers) and now they're tapping into a nascent anti-green sentiment that's becoming more noticeable as well. Noticeable enough that it has Farage sniffing around. And Priti can hang on the dance floor all night with Nigel but he will find his new relevancy regardless. The anti-green sentiment just might be his new populist power grab. But that's another article.
And so lets look at Rishi Sunak, British - born grandson of Indian immigrants from Africa. Just who are we letting Rishi be? His is a classic American story except of course it was lived here in Britain. 2nd generation immigrant. Smart. Worked hard and got into the best schools - maybe helped by some of those schools diversity aims (clear your throat sounds because no one says that part out loud).
He’s a bit like a British Barrack Obama except, of course, for the politics, or poverty, or immigration, or pretty much anything else…
Back to Rishi he marries a fabulously wealthy daughter of a fantastically successful Indian entrepreneur. Works for her Dad - at arms length always so it's not that obvious in the biography (clear your throat sounds again because no one says that part out loud). Buys a beautiful home in Santa Monica, London and Richmond, Yorkshire. The Richmond one comes with a convenient constituency - call it a late wedding gift from his mother-in-law (clear your throat sounds one more time because no one says that part out loud).
Sunak is a SWOT at heart and he works hard (did a couple of years at Goldman’s before grad school) so when opportunity in the form of a Chancellorship that no one wants to touch with a ten foot pole because Johnson and Brexit are turning toxic, he takes the post. Sunak worked a couple years at Goldman’s (as an intern?) before grad school and Johnson sold him as a top Goldman Sachs banker. Not sure Goldman’s would agree.
Head down, giving away billions during Covid (really he has experience in spending other people’s money…) he gets noticed favourably (funny that) as the practical reasonable guy giving everyone money amid a turbulent Covid/Johnson sea. In the end the party saves itself by jumping into his steady, prosperous ship as the Johnson then Truss swashbuckling pirate’s of the Caribbean yachts sink in the murky British waters scuttled by their own hands.
A year into Sunak's premiership just who is Rishi?
Is he the serious PM for a serious time? or is it Year Zero, nothings changed for the Tories and regicide is nigh? Sunak’s term as Prime Minister of a democracy started badly. The first back room appointed PM in modern times. At least they didn’t try to drag the Queen into it like some Rees-Mogg/Johnson fantasy. That wise gracious woman had passed away before having to welcome some back room deal Prime Minister.
But despite the ignominious start or perhaps because of it Sunak’s first important bit of business was ‘Preserve the UK’. Ouch. Brexit had it straining at the seams and even the firm Brexiteer that he was (remember those schoolboy articles about the dangers of the EU) knew Boris’ deal needed fixing. A pattern of cooperation needed to be reestablished with the EU. An attitude correction toward Europe was overdue or none of the fixing would take...
He began with the Windsor framework which despite all the initial Sturm und Drang from the hard Brexiteers is now a settled part of our reality. His fix of the Northern Ireland Protocol was attacked fervently by Truss and Johnson and the rest of the heavyweights in the ERG. But the attack fizzled and the once 300lb gorilla in the room, the ERG, wasn’t the fearsome beast it once was put down by one of their own, like a lame hunting dog. Although who knows what happens in some dank cellar in certain politician’s Somerset piles.
And while it didn’t end the stalemate at Stormont let’s face it the DUP is a strange mob anyway. They really don’t want to go into government as the minority party. That's going to take years of fixing and in the meanwhile the NIP and the Windsor Framework make convenient scapegoats.
What the Windsor Framework has done is make it possible for Sunak to visit and have photo ops with a succession of European leaders. Which is nice.
He’s reestablished cooperation with Frontex, the EU border agency, done a Horizon deal around science and University research programs. Erasmus is talked about as a next lane and a small boat deal with Macron was signed. The rabid Brexiteers in his party are quiet for now and ERG is diminished. Even Farage is complaining that Johnson’s Brexit was done wrong and ill advised giving him evermore breathing room to broaden the EU trading relationship.
And having successfully killed the plan to sunset all of the Retained EU law at the end of this year, his ministers are quietly restating principles shared by both sides.
Head down, quiet work that makes a difference. This Rishi, boring but technocratic and competent seems successful. Less boy wonder, more smart civil servant. But London Bridge keeps falling down and Britain is more than Brexit. There are a lot of balls to juggle and it seems that competence in fixing a hard Brexit may not translate to the rest of Britain’s issues. Is there more then one string to the bow?
Maybe there is another Rishi. One who isn’t so head down. One who yearns to peek above the parapet and do something himself. A leader with vision and competence. But for this Rishi things don’t augur so well.
He lost the Prime Minister role to Truss when he tried to win it on his own. He couldn’t win it. Because you can dress the part of successful politician but successful politician is a hard role to play - just ask Johnson, Trump, Brown, Blair or either Clinton. You need to be a leader with vision who inspires, a negotiator who can make difficult deals and smart and competent enough to have smart and competent people around you. Its not enough to want to be Prime Minister. You need to know what you want to accomplish. YOU NEED A GRAND VISION. His big vision since Winchester days was Brexit so he needs another vision now. Brexit’s done and no one really wants to hear about it anymore. Rishi is smart enough to know that and he prepped for his first party conference as the leader to bring a new vision.
That speech, its delivery was a great performance. His media trainers have outdone themselves. At the end of it didn’t we all think - marvellous speech. So well done. He looked like a Prime Minister. He sounded like a Prime Minister. But then….. his big 3 visions for a British future were a bit depressing, infuriating and kind of impractical in that order. Certainly not visionary.
It was a beautiful speech. A performance Olivier could be proud of. But the day after was just a hangover of epic proportions (something Olivier was familiar with as well). The whole let Rishi be Rishi thing could be a huge boondoggle. Rishi was all appearance - he works hard at it - and when he applies himself like around his Brexit fixes he succeeds. But he’s been thinking about Brexit since he was 17.
Britain doesn’t have another 30 years for Rishi’s next big idea. It seems he isn’t an entrepreneur political or business after all - he just married the daughter of one. And Starmer is waiting in the wings - the competent, steady, almost drab hand itching for the rudder. In the mean time our somewhat broken ship is waiting - or is it listing..?
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