Critics have targeted British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s wealth | Job Binary


LONDON – Rishi Sunak is one of Britain’s richest prime ministers in history, and opposition politicians say his wealth puts him out of touch with high inflation and a public ready for spending cuts and a possible recession.

His family fortune – estimated at £730 million, equivalent to $846 million, according to the Sunday Times Rich List – and tax situation were highlighted in parliament on Wednesday. One Labor lawmaker said the average nurse in the state-run National Health Service would have to work for 20,000 years to amass the same fortune.

Mr. Sunak and his Conservative Party responded to the criticism by saying that it was his actions, not his bank account, that mattered. On Wednesday, he highlighted his work as chancellor of the exchequer during the pandemic, when he oversaw a government program to pay wages on behalf of companies to keep millions of British workers from losing their jobs.

“What I can say is that we will always protect the most vulnerable, as we did during Covid,” he said. Mr Sunak has pledged his government’s continued support for nurses who are threatening to strike in the coming weeks with “strong pay rises” and more training.

Political analysts say Mr. Sunak’s wealth may come into focus, especially in times of economic trouble, but whether it will affect his approach to politics and his performance at the ballot box is divided.

“His wealth makes it difficult because he has to go the extra mile to prove that he’s sensitive to the needs of the underprivileged, because he’s looking at how suffering can be separated from spending cuts,” Vernon Bogdanor said. , Research Professor at the Center for British Politics and Government at King’s College London.

Former investment banker and new British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is believed to be the richest resident of 10 Downing Street. The WSJ looks at how his wealth could complicate his efforts to steer the country through a cost-of-living crisis. Photo: Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty

The previous richest prime minister was the aristocrat Edward Stanley, who ruled the country in the second half of the 18th century and, according to the Guinness Book of Records, had a personal fortune of more than £7 million. Adjusted for inflation from the last year of his government, 1868, that would be around £613m in today’s money, according to the Bank of England’s inflation calculator. However, the wealth of British historical leaders is difficult to calculate, as much of it was based on land ownership.

The Sunday Times Rich List estimates that Mr. Sunak and his wife, Akshata Murthy, derive most of their total wealth from their nearly 1% stake in Infosys. Ltd.

an India-based technology and consulting company founded by his father.

Mr. Sunak was not born rich. He made his money during his career at Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

and as a hedge fund manager. He spoke of how his father, who was a doctor in the UK government-run health system, and his mother, who ran a family pharmacy in the south of England, worked hard to provide him with a world-class education.

“I’m not going to apologize for what they did for me,” he said in August. “Actually, I want to do this job because I want to offer these opportunities to everyone.”

Opposition Labor leader Keir Starmer asked on Wednesday whether Mr Sunak would remove the non-domiciled tax rules that allow foreign residents in the UK to avoid paying UK tax on their worldwide income. This year, Mrs Murthy changed tax rules, severely damaging her husband’s popularity in the polls after the Independent newspaper revealed she had benefited from the rules. Mr. Sunak did not answer the question.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is speaking in Parliament.


Photo:

Jessica Taylor/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

The Labor Party is expected to continue to flaunt Mr Sunak’s fortunes as the UK economy slips into a shallow but lasting recession in the coming months.

“Obviously people are asking how he understands how he is struggling with the cost of living,” said Rachael Maskell, the Labor member of parliament for York, Mr Sunak’s neighboring constituency.

Win Grant, a British political analyst and author, said Mr. Sunak’s wealth actually undermined his popularity.

“If things are bad, that kind of thing gains traction. If they are reasonable, it will be less of a problem,” he said.

Mr Sunak’s family owns a five-bedroom house and flat in Kensington, one of London’s most expensive areas; Mr Sunack’s centuries-old manor in his political constituency in the north of England; and a penthouse in Santa Monica, California, according to Rich List. Mr Sunak has not commented publicly on the property and UK leaders do not usually release their tax returns.

A Downing Street spokesman declined to comment on Mr Sunak’s personal wealth.

Mr. Sunak wore suits from London’s Tony Savile Row, where tailoring costs thousands of dollars. She recently drew widespread praise on social media for visiting one of Britain’s poorest areas wearing shoes made by Italian luxury group Prada SpA. He did not rule out expensive clothes, but said that he should be judged by his actions.

Most of Akshata Murthy’s wealth is from her stake in Infosys.


Photo:

Justin Ng/Zuma Press

Respondents to an October survey by market research firm Savanta Group answered “rich” when asked what word they most associate with Mr. Sunak.

Mr Sunak became prime minister after predecessor Liz Truss’ promises of unfunded tax cuts sent the pound and government debt crashing, driving up inflation and borrowing costs, leading to her resignation. The new leader is now expected to cut public spending, which will affect public services.

Other Tory leaders have highlighted their wealth during a period of national austerity. Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron has reined in public spending since his election in 2010, leading to frequent references to the wealth and elite education of his family and Treasury chief George Osborne. The media often talked about the wealth of Margaret Thatcher’s businessman husband, Denis.

US leaders have also been targeted by rivals for their wealth. Some critics have accused President John F. Kennedy’s family of buying his election victory, while Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has often been accused of being out of touch because of his wealth. However, in the US, wealth can be used as advertising, with former President Donald Trump and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg citing their billions of dollars during the election campaign.

Write to Alistair MacDonald at Alistair.Macdonald@wsj.com

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