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Poker player Rishi Sunak must raise the stakes if he wants to become prime minister

Back when he was in business school in Silicon Valley, Rishi Sunak occasionally played poker.

The stakes weren’t high – he and his friends would throw away around $20 – and the winner would get everyone a round of drinks.


In recent weeks, Rishi Sunak has bet everything to succeed Boris Johnson as Prime Minister

Sunak, a teetotaller whose day now begins with a grueling 6am workout on a £1,750 Peloton fitness bike, was never a natural player.

However, in recent weeks, he has bet everything to succeed Boris Johnson as Prime Minister.

With rival Liz Truss now widely tipped to win, she has just over a month to turn things around.

The question is how?

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One thing is certain: continuing to focus on “sense and honest” measures, tackling borrowing and inflation on the promise of a return to traditional conservative economic values ​​in the distant future, will not work.


The majority of the 150,000 Conservative Party members who will decide the outcome of this contest are appalled by the historically high taxes Sunak imposed as Chancellor and will vote for no more of the same.

His listening ear to the howls of dismay from mainstream conservative voters at his high-tax, high-spending, low-growth agenda — something that dominates every discussion among grassroots activists about the direction of this country — has been a catastrophic error.

As Truss so aptly demonstrated, all his rival needs to do is promise otherwise and keep the debate centered on this issue.

To stand a chance of winning, the former Chancellor must now shift the battle from the ground he has already lost (the economy) to territory he can still win – namely, how to reshape Britain so that it remains one of the greatest countries on Earth. Like any politician who asks for the honor of leading a country, he needs to sell a dream.

Without diminishing the cost of living crisis and the very real hardship it brings, he must argue that there is more to life than inflation and taxes.

It is to paint a dazzling picture of Britain in 2025, 2030 and beyond: a land of opportunity for all, with faster growth, higher wages and less cumbersome red tape and regulations – a Great Britain which has public services to be proud of and which attracts the brightest and best in the world.

This vision should be of a true United Kingdom that continues to wield massive influence on the world stage, a Britain that is no longer torn apart by Scottish, Welsh and Irish nationalism and divided by bitter wars cultural. Sunak’s Britain should no longer approach Brexit as an exercise in damage limitation or a source of slightly embarrassed regret, but as the shining opportunity it always was – and remains.

In this battle for the greatest of all political prizes, Sunak has many advantages.

He is one of the smartest, most capable and hard-working politicians in this country: a Fulbright scholar with a first-class degree from Oxford University.

He is charismatic, engaging and attractive – and kind. I spent the better part of a year researching his life for a biography and found nothing to dislike.

When I was working on this project two years ago, he didn’t seem to have made a single enemy – quite remarkable for a politician who had reached 11 Downing Street.

Like any politician who asks for the honor of leading a country, he needs to sell a dream

Yet now his campaign is off the ground. His core team of around 20 volunteers – most of whom are very young and working unpaid – put in insane hours in an effort to turn the tide, but are increasingly demoralized as they see his hopes of reaching the highest position escape him.

Some high profile supporters – while publicly supporting their man – are so depressed that they privately try to get closer to Truss.

(A former cabinet minister who was among his early supporters recently approached a prominent representative of the Truss campaign and sought to position himself for a job under his premiership. This is politics. for you !)

All of the “snakes and knives” (as one Truss ally dubs them) who helped bring Johnson down and backed Sunak simply because they thought he was unstoppable now face political oblivion.


If she wins, the Machiavellian Michael Gove – whose political coat still hides a dagger – looks finished.

Also gone are Gavin Williamson, the wily political operative who played a key behind-the-scenes role in the leadership campaigns of the last two prime ministers, and ‘temporary’ Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi.

As for the former chancellor himself, if he loses he can expect to be offered a job as head of the Department for Communities and Housing, or perhaps Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – a prospect he’ll probably find easy to decline.

Victory will now take on the political equivalent of an SAS operation: a parachute landing behind enemy lines in which a small group of highly trained agents ruthlessly identify and target enemy vulnerability and defy overwhelming odds to change the course of history.

Truss has yet to convey a convincing vision of the type of Britain she wants to lead. Therein lies Sunak’s big opportunity.

He should remember the skills he showed as a poker player in college – and raise the stakes considerably.

  • Isabel Oakeshott is TalkTV’s International Editor