As a recruiter, I screen candidates based on experience, not personality. Suitability, not popularity. Skills, not ‘feels’.
Conservative Party members should do the same, and vote for Rishi Sunak. They are choosing the CEO of UK plc, and are duty bound to select the candidate with the experience needed for the challenges of the role. The challenge the country is facing now is economic; the skills required are financial.
That’s why I believe Rishi is the only qualified candidate.
The 200,000 Tory party members are the board members of UK plc; 67 million Brits are the shareholders. Like every board, party members must act in the interests of shareholders – not in the furthering of personal relationships or in the pursuit of photogenics.
We already know that personality politics, and the televised leadership debate format that fuels it, doesn’t work. The first Prime Ministerial debate in 2010 led to Cleggmania, which was almost as short-lived as Nick Clegg’s popularity.
Contrast that with Angela Merkel, who, despite having the charisma (and mannerisms) of a headteacher, lasted 16 years as Germany’s Chancellor – longer than any UK Prime Minister in the last two hundred years.
One of the strengths of our parliamentary system is that, unlike in the US for example, the electorate is not able – or should not be able – to vote for a reality TV star. The parliamentary process should work to create a shortlist of qualified candidates for long-term positions as Prime Minister, which the British people can then choose from.
Parliamentarians should not act like they are voting for the winner of Love Island. The soundbite and ratings driven format of TV leader debates encourages them to do exactly that – but they must resist.
The difference between this appointment and corporate positions is that the shareholders – the British people – cannot rebel against the board if they fail in their responsibility. I believe their responsibility is to judge candidates based on their CVs, not their smiles.
That responsibility should lead them to Rishi as the only viable choice. Inflation, the cost of living crisis, and soaring energy costs are the most critical challenges facing Britain today. None of the other candidates have the experience needed to address these.
That doesn’t mean Rishi is perfect. Some of his pandemic spending could – in hindsight – have been excessive (did he really need to buy everyone dinner?) and some of the optics being put out by his team (photos of a toned Chancellor in his hoodie and sipping coffee from a £180 mug) play into both the personality politics to which he should be the antidote, and the perception of him as being rich and out of touch.
It’s the latter charge that could be most damaging. Rishi should be proud that both he and his in-laws have humble backgrounds. He is self-made and owes his success to talent and hard work, not privilege and nepotism. His wife was gifted 1% of the business her father co-founded and grew – long before it became a multi-billion-pound global enterprise.
We can hardly call Sunak an elitist for having a (by all accounts) successful and hardworking father in law, no more than we would attack him as fiscally irresponsible if his father-in-law was a bankrupt. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father – or the success of the father in law.
Rishi is the CEO that UK plc needs. He may not have the same Tory grassroots popularity or iconic potential as some of the alternatives, but celebrity is not a condition of leadership. Many countries – like Germany – know this, and so do many of the world’s most successful companies.
Steve Jobs was iconic, and still is. His successor, Tim Cook, isn’t. You probably wouldn’t recognise him if he walked past you in the street. But Cook took Apple’s share price from $357 in 2011 to $702 – almost double – just a year later.
Britain’s stock is also falling now, and needs a similar lift. Cook would probably admit that he doesn’t have Jobs’ charisma. But he has his expertise.
Perhaps the best thing about recruiting (or appointing a party leader and Prime Minister) based on experience is that it automatically protects against discrimination.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal, Google CEO Sundar Pichai, and former Pepsico CEO Indra Nooyi were all born in India.
The corporate world knows that an experienced and qualified leader is more powerful than someone who ‘looks the part’. It’s time politics learnt this lesson too.
I believe Britain is ready for a non-white Prime Minister – if they have the right skills and experience. And Rishi does.