Big Issues

Rishi Sunak Is A Frightening Example Of Where Global Politics Is Heading

rishi sunak donald trump peter dutton

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When I watched Rishi Sunak, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, make a transphobic joke during Prime Minister’s Questions the same day murdered trans teenager Brianna Ghey’s mother was in the Commons, I felt a deep pang of despair. 

It wasn’t just despair for Brianna’s mother, who had to endure the leader of her country once again using trans people to further his conservative agenda mere months after her own daughter’s murder was ruled as a secondary motivated hate crime. It wasn’t just despair for all the trans people, not just in the UK but around the world, who are continually having their lives politicised and their right to a happy life stripped away as transphobic laws are passed. It was despair for the fact that Rishi Sunak is the model for what other right-wing, conservative, and populist leaders around the world aspire to be. The type of leader who employs transphobic rhetoric and moral panic and who labels immigration (from, let’s face it, non-white countries) as a problem all while barely caring about climate change or helping to deal with the rising cost of living.  

When pressed to apologise, especially after Brianna’s father asked, Sunak refused. Instead, he continued to peddle his transphobic sentiments. That in of itself should be disturbing enough, but it doesn’t help that he is smiling while discussing the murder of a trans teenager. 

I was also stunned just a day before when I watched Piers Morgan make a £1,000 (nearly $2,000 AUD) bet that Sunak won’t get anybody on “deportation flights to Rwanda” before the general election — which can be no later than January 28, 2025. For context, the UK government wants to send asylum seekers to Rwanda to be processed there. The plan was blocked by the UK supreme court, which ruled it as unlawful. Sunak is still pushing the narrative that he can make the scheme happen. So here we have the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom making bets with one of the country’s most hated media figures about whether or not he will deport people who simply seek safety in another country. Completely normal behaviour that no one should be worried about. 

Over the past decade there’s been a slow global shift towards the right that seems to be picking up steam. While the British public didn’t elect Sunak, he appears to be a symptom of the country’s move rightward, possibly best exemplified by the Brexit vote in 2016. Similarly, right wing parties in countries all over the world are also building up support — and the timing couldn’t be worse. This year, half of the world’s population will vote in elections across the world. It’s believed that not only will far-right parties see massive gains, but the very existence of democracy could be in danger. Sweet.  

Despite many believing that Donald Trump’s defeat by President Joe Biden in the 2020 US election signalled the end of far right populism, it was only the beginning. In Europe, the far-right are expected to win big this year, which could see a spill of conservative politicians dominating the EU. When anti-Islam, anti-EU populist Geert Wilders was elected last year as Netherland’s Prime Minister, far right European leaders applauded. Wilder once described Islam as “an ideology of a retarded culture” and called Moroccans “scum” as he pushes for a total ban on immigration to the Netherlands. In Argentina, Javier Milei, known as ‘El Loco’, became the country’s new far-right president last year. He is often compared to (former Brazilian president) Jair Bolsonaro and Trump — two men you’d never want to be compared to. The comparison makes sense because he supports an abortion ban, an armed citizenry, and wild economic proposals. 

In the 2023 New Zealand election, Labour lost power after having its share of votes go from 50 percent in 2020 to just 26.91 percent. They were replaced by a right-wing government formed by a three-party coalition between National Party, Act Party, and New Zealand First with Christopher Luxon as the Prime Minister — the same man currently participating in the attempted dismantling and rewriting of New Zealand’s founding document, the Treaty of Waitangi. In India, Prime Minister Modi will most likely win the 2024 election, extending the rule of his party, the BJP, which has strong Hindu nationalist, anti-Muslim leanings — and their influence is spreading. As for the 2024 Indonesian election, there are barely any left-leaning parties in the race. Even Trump, who currently faces criminal charges for obstructing justice and who incited the January 6 insurrection, has a good chance of winning again.

When Australia elected Anthony Albanese, many thought we’d have a Labor government that would finally address important issues. But after a year of broken promises, Australia will be left with an election (to be held on or before 27 September 2025) between a man who stands in the shadow of what he once represented and another who started a culture war against Woolworths. There’s now the slimmest of margins between the Coalition and Labor as the preferred party to lead. Although Albanese is still ahead in preferred prime minister, you really should have a much larger lead if your competition is Peter Dutton. 

Sunak’s casual transphobia isn’t a flash in the pan. It’s part of a dangerous right-wing net being cast across the globe that suffocates any genuine attempt to discuss human rights, gender and sexual equality, climate change, and race relations without having to face accusations of “wokeness”. The main political strategy of leaders like Sunak is, apparently, to stoke the flames of rightwing populism while on a moral panic crusade in order to distract from an inability to govern. They’re less concerned with improving people’s lives — which requires hard work — than with peddling easy, polarising answers. And they’re getting better at it.

Ky is a proud Kamilaroi and Dharug person and writer at Junkee. Follow them on Instagram or on X.

Image: Getty