'Rishi Sunak: The Rise' book review: Written in vain

There is a parallel with the present book. Rishi Sunak, after a succession battle within the Conservative Party that involved standing against Truss initially, became PM in October.
'Rishi Sunak: The Rise' book
'Rishi Sunak: The Rise' book

Harry Cole and James Heale wrote a book on Liz Truss and her astonishing rise to power. It was meant to be an inside story, to be published on December 8, 2022, Truss having become prime minister in September. But, Truss resigned the following month and the book had to be redone, with rapid fall added to the unexpected rise.

There is a parallel with the present book. Rishi Sunak, after a succession battle within the Conservative Party that involved standing against Truss initially, became PM in October. Prior to that, he was Chancellor of the Exchequer from 2020 to 2022. Much has been made of Sunak’s antecedents as PM and books will be written on him and his meteoric rise.

Michael Ashcroft wears many hats— businessman, politician (Conservative Party) and author. None of his books, including those that are political biographies, however, are the products of intensive research. They collect facts, easily obtained and not ferreted out, and present them in a readable and popular style. His political biographies (David Cameron, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Keir Starmer and Carrie Johnson) can also be partisan, lacking objectivity a proper biography requires.

The titles indicate this. For instance, the Carrie Johnson biography was titled First Lady: Intrigue at the Court of Carrie and Boris Johnson. The original title of the book under review (as published by Biteback) was Going for Broke. The present title, The Rise, was a sub-title of that version. More importantly, that version was published in 2020 (written in September 2020), a few months after Sunak became Chancellor of Exchequer.

In that sense, there is a parallel with the Cole and Heale book. Other than the topical interest in Sunak, there is no reason why Hachette India should decide to reprint (it has not been revised, unlike Cole and Heale) a 2020 volume two years later, when Chancellor of the Exchequer has become PM and a biography (all Ashcroft’s biographies are unauthorised) has been overtaken by events. But other biographies haven’t yet surfaced and one may well cash in on the interest. The sole recognition of events is removal of the ‘Going for Broke’ expression.

That sounds harsh and unfair. Basic facts don’t change. Indeed, they don’t. But any author can sift through facts he/she wishes to portray and project. It is also true that no contemporary biography can be truly objective, not until a post- mortem can be done, and certainly not when a politician is still in office.
While this is no hagiography, the facts, as Ashcroft sees them, are stuff fairy tales are made of. In 1989, Sunak was nine and joined a prep-school named Stroud. Olly Case was academically two years junior to Sunak. He studied with his younger brother, Sanjay. The author quotes Case: “He was someone who was talked about; the teachers would say, ‘He’s going to be a Prime Minister.’ I know that because since I started working at the school and have spoken to some of the teachers who taught me, they remember the former deputy head and former head discussed it and thought he’d be the first Asian background Prime Minister and things like that.”

Out of the 22 chapters in the book, 21 are in that vein–– perfect lineage of hard- working immigrant parents; premium placed on education; hardworking student; a prescient article he wrote at the age of 16 critiquing Labour Party policies; PPE in Oxford, where he was a perfect student; ideal employee in Goldman Sachs; ideal marriage; work with a hedge fund; the 2014 report on the importance of ethnic minorities; adapting to the rural constituency of Richmond; deft and principled position on EU referendum; adroit handling of party politics and picking the right side; Brexit; and Chancellor
of the Exchequer.

When the book was written, some of this was generally unknown. After Sunak became PM, that is no longer the case. Chapters have been devoted to Covid and the Chancellor’s spending exercise. In 2023,
few will be as laudatory about management of the British economy.

The only chapter where the author moves off the teflon template is in Chapter 22, titled ‘Brand Rishi’. It is a thin chapter. Although Ashcroft doesn’t state it in as many words, that teflon template is the outcome of conscious brand building. It is in large measure, a façade. By the way, this chapter also tells us Sunak had no desire to be PM. “The trouble with writing about a politician who is still in office is that the book has to end before the story does.” This is the last sentence in the Epilogue. Precisely. The book has ended in 2020 and the story has moved on. If you didn’t read the book in 2020, don’t bother now.

Rishi Sunak: The Rise 
By: Michael Ashcroft 
Publisher: Hachette India
Pages: 357
Price: Rs 699

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