RISHI Sunak has been destined for the top since he was first elected as Richmond MP in 2015 – his immediate predecessors William Hague, and the late Leon Brittan, also occupied great offices of state.
Yet they were never appointed in the invidious circumstances confronting Mr Sunak, 39, after he was appointed Chancellor in the immediate aftermath of Sajid Javid’s shock resignation during Boris Johnson’s reshuffle.
Less than four weeks before the pivotal first Budget of Mr Johnson’s premiership, and midway through a Brexit-delayed Comprehensive Spending Review that Mr Sunak was presiding over to ensure that the Treasury’s funding formula finally takes better account of the North’s needs in future, the new Chancellor’s ascent is rapid.
The first Yorkshire MP to serve as Chancellor since Denis Healey, his experience as Treasury chief secretary will serve him well. So, too, will his decision to back Brexit in 2016 – the decision weighed heavily – and then give early backing to Mr Johnson’s leadership bid last summer.
Such credentials – together with his commitment to the Northern Powerhouse – explain why he was the logical choice to be Chancellor when Mr Javid quit over the role of special advisors and Mr Johnson’s ubiquitous and omnipresent aide Dominic Cummings.
It remains to be seen if the fallout inflicts lasting damage on the PM. None of Theresa May’s many reshuffles went this awry and it points to misgivings about the influence of aides like Mr Cummings and whether they, rather than Mr Johnson, are running the UK. Time will also tell if Mr Johnson’s changes have done enough to assuage those who believed that the Government was too male-dominated – it is striking that gender balance had supplanted Brexit as the defining test before Mr Javid quit without even delivering a Budget.
But it is far more profound than this. It is whether the new top team has the statesmanship and statecraft needed to deliver the Government’s political priorities – there’s been too much talk and too little action on social care – as well as the freedom to get on with their respective roles without being bullied and belittled by a constant flow of unofficial and unattributable negative briefings emanating from 10 Downing Street.
This corrosive culture detracts from good governance – and the PM’s deep desire to ‘level up’ the country, and bring about lasting economic and social change to the North, after defying sceptics (like Mr Cummings) to give the green light to HS2.
And at a time when Tory infighting and factionalism over Brexit appeared to be over for good in the wake of Britain’s departure from the EU a fortnight ago, the hope must be that Mr Javid’s exit does not distract from the Government’s number one mission.
In this regard, Mr Sunak’s appointment is a reassuring one in the circumstances – provided that he has the conviction and character to use his position to turbo-charge the Northern Powerhouse, and manage the economy in a way which generates extra investment in key public services, without being undermined by his new neighbours in 10 Downing Street.