There’s nothing fuddy duddy about Rishi Sunak. Few senior male politicians can pull off a skinny tie and super slim fit suit combo like Sunak, his on-point trendiness appeals to a certain type of young-ish urban professional, not quite hipster but a long way from the private member’s clubs on Pall Mall. 

This makes it a curiosity that he consistently draws support from the Tory party’s more socially conservative MPs. Looking down the list of his supporters, MPs who would be unafraid to describe themselves as traditionalists are among his most enthusiastic backers. Even old social conservative war horses like Sir Desmond Swayne were early Sunak backers. 

It is a little known fact that Rishi Sunak was the government’s first “family champion” appointed to the role by newly appointed Prime Minister Boris Johnson in 2019. This title, which he actually asked for, was never publicly announced. It was tethered to his role as number two in the Treasury without even a bullet point in his list of ministerial responsibilities. Many more senior figures turned down the chance to champion families but Sunak and his right-hand woman, now minister, Claire Coutinho, were keen to take it on. As Sunak was promoted unexpectedly to the top job in the Treasury, the role fizzled out as it was handed around Cabinet like a pair of regifted Christmas socks.

These traditionally minded, pro-family MPs know something that most of Westminster probably doesn’t – Rishi Sunak is a secret family values politician. Not that he would admit it, nor will his advisors encourage such ideas, but it is there in his politics. 

As our (latest) Prime Minister, Sunak will need to deal with an economy on the brink, with household finances in crisis and most families more concerned with politicians sorting out interest rates than opining on the role of family. Any radical domestic agenda will need to wait, but a prime minister can’t govern on the economy alone, at some point a social narrative will emerge. 

Britain could be set for a quietly pro family government. Jeremy Hunt is also a secret traditionalist, having made speeches as health secretary warning the country to avoid the dangers of an “atomised” society with few meaningful family links. He saw the dangers for the lonely elderly overly reliant on the state. 

If Sunak as Prime Minister signals a more traditional tune, this will be a relief to socially conservative MPs who were unnerved by the turbo charged libertarianism of the Truss Downing Street. Had she stayed in office for much longer she would have junked the Marriage Allowance, something that would likely have caused a commotion with a rump of Conservative MPs. Thankfully it has not come to pass and Sunak should have no time for these plans. 

If Rishi Sunak wants to repay the support of his motley band of socially conservative supporters he shouldn’t be afraid of finding his voice on the family. Family is a toxic taboo among the Westminster advisor class but not for the public, who tell pollsters by big majorities that stronger families help children get on. They even tell pollsters they like it when politicians talk about the importance of parenting and even marriage. You will never hear this in Westminster but it’s plain common sense to most voters.

We shouldn’t be surprised that Rishi Sunak is a secret traditionalist, he was an early backer of family hubs, local nerve centres for family support, as chancellor. Pumping hundreds of millions into their roll out. If he succeeds in seeing off Boris Johnson, the first Prime Minster to get divorced in office since the Duke of Grafton in 1769, he should quickly put a family minister around his Cabinet table and task them with getting to grips with this issue.

Only a few weeks ago the Children’s Commissioner scored a front page splash with new analysis showing nearly half of British children now grow up outside the traditional two-parent set up. 

Perhaps it will take a modern looking politician, one with a vigorous head of hair, to finally talk some good old fashioned common sense on families without the “Guardian reading, tofu-eating wokerati” howling at their keyboards. 

There is a reason that the more socially minded wing of the Conservative Party is backing Rishi Sunak in big numbers, they will know he is one of them and possibly even better placed to deliver their message in a modern, social media age. 

Don’t expect a back to basics monologue any time soon, his advisors are too savvy for that and the economic challenges too great to focus on much else but rescuing an economy on a cliff edge. Despite the dapper attire and trendy branding, we might yet discover a very traditional type of Tory at the top. 

Frank Young is editorial director at the Civitas think tank

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