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When the Conservative Party decided to field Rishi Sunak from Richmond (Yorkshire) in the 2015 parliamentary elections in the UK, voters in the constituency had no idea who he was.  Until then, his standout identity among his peers was that he was the son-in-law of Infosys founder Narayana Murthy, whose businesswoman daughter Akshata Murthy was married to him. Of course, he was blessed with degrees from prestigious institutions, such as Oxford, Stanford and Winchester College, but he had no political background. He was born in 1980 in Southampton to working parents – his father was a doctor and mother a chemist. Both were Indian-origin and came from East Africa. Sunak himself was a proud and practising Hindu.

But such a background hardly guarantees success in an election. So, did the Conservative Party gamble on an unknown 34-year-old with a “college kid” look, who until a year earlier had a flourishing career in investment banking in the US? Not at all, because the party had assigned Sunak its safest seat in the country. The party bosses must have seen something in him that prompted them to parachute him into a safe Tory haven. The initial reaction of Tory voters was that he “was not a local lad”. But Sunak won by a thumping majority.

Understanding Richmond

Richmond is in the north of England in Yorkshire, a region known for its lack of wealth but not lack of beauty. However, made up of pretty rural villages and scenic semi-urban places, it is an island of prosperity. If Yorkshire is Labour, Richmond is defiantly Tory in Labour territory.

Richmond is such a safe Tory seat that Rishi Sunak did not have to work very hard to retain it in the 2017 midterm polls and the 2019 general elections. In 2022, just seven years after his first victory, he became the pride of his constituency by becoming the country’s first non-White Prime Minister.

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Rishi Sunak is once again contesting from the safest Tory seat in the UK. The constituency has returned a Conservative MP since 1910 and has sent some very high-profile politicians to Parliament. William Hague, the former British foreign secretary, and Leon Brittan, former home secretary, were some of the famous names who had contested and won from this constituency.

The Labour Onslaught

One could assume it will be an easy victory for Sunak a fourth time too. The logic goes that if a completely unknown candidate in 2015 was trusted by the Richmond voters, why would they turn against him now that he is known all over the world as the first non-White British Prime Minister leading the Conservative Party to the July 4 Parliamentary elections?

On the face of it, he is safe and should win his seat without breaking a sweat. But could that be about to change? It’s possible. First, many of the safest Tory seats were captured by the Labour Party when it swept to power under the leadership of a young and charismatic Tony Blair. If anything, the Conservatives today are in a much worse situation as all predictions point to their complete decimation in next month’s election.

Read | 5 Times UK PM Rishi Sunak Came Under Fire

Secondly, Rochdale, a Labour stronghold, elected George Galloway of the Workers Party of Britain in a by-election early this year. Last year, the Tories had already lost two of their safest seats to Labour in by-elections. These results were shocking as a Labour win was once unthinkable.

More alarming for Sunak was the fact that the recent local elections in the area did not go the Tory way. A Labour candidate won the mayor’s election by a huge margin in a mayoral area whose large parts are covered by Sunak’s constituency. The area is well-established as a Conservative citadel, and yet Labour registered a handsome victory. After the shocking result, Sunak’s Labour rival in Richmond said, “Labour is in prime position to cause a real upset. The Conservative lead over Labour here is dwarfed by voters saying they would be willing to vote tactically.”

Time For Change?

The boundaries of many of the 650 House of Commons seats have recently been changed, affecting Richmond, now known as Richmond and Northallerton. Will the voters in Northallerton be as welcoming to Sunak as the voters of Richmond have been? It’s too early to say. But a recent poll indicates Sunak’s seat is at risk, with his lead narrowing to just over 2%.

Local newspapers have carried out snap interviews with many Tory voters in Richmond and Northallerton. Their yearning for change may not be good news for Sunak. But there are still nearly four weeks to go. In politics, that is a long time. 

(Syed Zubair Ahmed is a London-based senior Indian journalist with three decades of experience with the Western media)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author