This week, solely Nadhim Zahawi has ridden a political rollercoaster to rival the one which ejected Boris Johnson from Downing Avenue. On Monday, he was the UK’s training secretary — his first cupboard posting. By Tuesday, he had been promoted to chancellor. On Wednesday, he was plotting tax cuts alongside the prime minister. And by Thursday, he had performed a central position in ending Johnson’s premiership.
The 55-year-old’s elevation to the second strongest position in British politics is the most recent step in a speedy rise that his allies hope may see him turn out to be Britain’s first non-white prime minister. However some senior Conservatives suppose that his speedy about-turn in opposition to Johnson will backfire.
Zahawi was born in Baghdad in 1967 to a Kurdish household that fled to Britain when he was simply 9. The longer term training secretary didn’t communicate any English when he arrived, main his lecturers to initially concern he suffered from studying difficulties. He was educated at each state and personal faculties, earlier than incomes a level in chemical engineering from College School London.
After graduating, Zahawi went into enterprise, although typically with combined outcomes. Certainly one of his much less profitable early ventures was a advertising firm that distributed merchandise for the Teletubbies kids’s tv programme. He was additionally an aide to Lord Jeffrey Archer, the previous Tory MP and novelist, together with in the course of the latter’s unsuccessful bid to be mayor of London.
Zahawi started his political profession as an area councillor within the affluent London borough of Wandsworth. Any nationwide ambitions he harboured took a again seat whereas he targeting enterprise. In 2000, he based YouGov, one of many first polling corporations to concentrate on on-line analysis. However different roles, together with incomes £1.3mn as a advisor to Gulf Keystone Petroleum, have raised eyebrows. It was reported this week that Zahawi was investigated by the Nationwide Crime Company, however no wrongdoing was discovered.
In 2010, Zahawi was chosen for the protected Tory seat of Stratford-upon-Avon. In contrast to many bold Tories elected when the social gathering returned to energy below David Cameron, his ministerial profession didn’t take off. One Quantity 10 official who labored with him says: “He was clearly very proficient, however didn’t seize David’s consideration.”
Supporting Brexit within the 2016 referendum, nevertheless, ensured that his standing throughout the social gathering rose. A sequence of junior ministerial appointments adopted. However it was Johnson’s patronage that thrust Zahawi into the highlight as vaccines minister on the top of the coronavirus pandemic. He was praised by MPs for his calm media performances amid widespread fears of shortages.
He additionally received favour with Whitehall civil servants. One mandarin who labored with him in the course of the pandemic says his sharp concentrate on knowledge was welcome. “As secretary of state, he was continually asking, ‘What’s the proof? What’s the proof?’ in the course of the vaccine roll out,” the official remembers. “Many different ministers simply do issues merely on intuition.”
Since his elevation to the cupboard as training secretary final September, Zahawi has been marked out as a candidate to succeed Johnson. Like rivals similar to international secretary Liz Truss and former chancellor Rishi Sunak, he has been schmoozing MPs and making ready for the prime minister’s departure for months.
He has additionally been on a health kick with the management race in thoughts. “He’s operating, actually,” one MP smirks. At working dinners he has taken to consuming half parts.
Zahawi’s marketing campaign will concentrate on three components, in accordance with officers concerned: his “phenomenal” back-story; his enterprise hinterland; and his file in authorities. “Quite a lot of his rivals don’t have enterprise expertise earlier than politics, others don’t have the identical stage of supply or authorities expertise both,” says one MP who’s backing him.
However it’s his position within the downfall of Johnson that will decide whether or not he makes it to Quantity 10. When Sunak resigned as chancellor on Tuesday, Zahawi was one of many few credible candidates for the job. A few of his supporters had been upset when he accepted. “We at all times knew that he’s a pleasant man however he has poor political judgment,” one good friend says. However others felt he had little alternative. “These positions should be stuffed . . . he may have tried to maintain the present on the highway.”
The day after he arrived on the Treasury, Zahawi was a part of a delegation of ministers who informed the prime minister to go. In an open letter, he wrote that he was “heartbroken” that his good friend of 30 years had not heeded his recommendation. “Prime minister, you already know in your coronary heart what the best factor to do is, and go now.” Johnson acquiesced hours later. “It was Nadhim’s language that lastly acquired Boris over the road,” says one ally of his position within the regicide.
Though his profile in Westminster has risen considerably in latest days, Zahawi’s renown past the world of politics is restricted. The bookmakers’ Ladbrokes put his odds of being the subsequent prime minister as 12/1, behind 5 different contenders, together with Sunak and Truss. His problem is to persuade MPs that he can construct a nationwide following.
However amongst Tory activists, who will in the end select the subsequent social gathering chief and PM, Zahawi is nicely favored. He’s the social gathering’s second hottest determine with a internet approval score of +66, behind solely defence secretary Ben Wallace, who has chosen to not stand. Paul Goodman, the editor of ConservativeHome, says, “He has a profitable file in enterprise and a profitable file in authorities in delivering the vaccine programme.”
Goodman observes that the approaching management race is “a lottery”, however provides that if he “will get in entrance of the members he may do nicely”. Whether or not that occurs relies upon first on the votes of fellow Tory MPs, who’re already nicely conscious of his back-story and authorities file. They may resolve whether or not Zahawi is able to serving to the social gathering rebuild after the turmoil of the Johnson period.
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