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Nadhim Zahawi has set out a Tory leadership bid rooted in lower taxes and a “great education” for all, promising to “steady the ship” and “stabilise the economy”.
The newly-appointed Chancellor argued Britons must be trusted “to do what is best for themselves”, as he warned the country had lost a sense of “boundless optimism and opportunity” that he traced back to Margaret Thatcher’s tenure.
On Saturday, the former education secretary became the third serving Government minister to kick off their campaign for the top job, after Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and Attorney General Suella Braverman announced their intentions to run.
Born in Iraq to a Kurdish family, Mr Zahawi came to the UK as a nine-year-old when his parents fled the regime of Saddam Hussein.
Believed to be one of the richest politicians in the House of Commons, he helped found polling company YouGov after studying chemical engineering at University College London.
He has often said that his own personal backstory has deeply influenced his view of Britain, and he recently spoke of the debt he owed poet Philip Larkin as he improved his English as a teenager.
Launching his leadership bid, he paid tribute to the education he had received in Britain, where he said he grew up with an understanding that “nothing was impossible”.
“The Conservative Party has made me who I am today,” he said.
“Society is a reflection of its leaders, and under Margaret Thatcher, the Britain I knew was full of boundless optimism and opportunity.
“That has been lost and a change is needed. The country is confronting some of the greatest challenges for a lifetime.
“My aim is a simple one: to provide the opportunities that were afforded to my generation, to all Britons, whoever you are and wherever you come from. To steady the ship and to stabilise the economy.”
The Chancellor made a brief reference to Brexit, saying Britain’s departure from the EU made it a “free nation”.
“Let’s not just talk about the opportunities that follow, let’s take them,” he said.
“If a young boy, who came here aged 11 without a word of English, can serve at the highest levels of Her Majesty’s Government and run to be the next prime minister, anything is possible.”
Mr Zahawi said he would be putting three key pledges to his colleagues and Tory Party members.
He promised to cut taxes for individuals, families and business, arguing the current burden is “too high”.
Citing his experience fleeing Iraq, he said he is aware that security, safety and freedom are “things that we can never take for granted”, and argued defence spending “needs to rise”.
In addition, he said he would push ahead with the reforms he started in his previous role, to “deliver a great education for every child”.
“I will also continue to focus on letting children be children, protecting them from damaging and inappropriate nonsense being forced on them by radical activists,” he added.
The Chancellor said he envisaged a nation “where your only ceiling is yourself – not the state, or society”.
“We, as Conservatives, must trust Britons to do what is best for themselves,” he said.
I have known @nadhimzahawi for nearly two decades. He is the most passionate advocate for opportunity for all, no matter who you are or where you come from. He delivers and gets things done. He would be an excellent leader of our Party and of our great country. 🇬🇧
— Brandon Lewis (@BrandonLewis) July 9, 2022
“Overseeing the highest tax burden since 1949 is not the Conservative way. We cannot tax our way into prosperity.
“I will guarantee that the next generation will be afforded the best education possible.
“Combined, this will begin the journey towards hope. A more prosperous nation, one which can provide the best opportunities to its next generation.”
Mr Zahawi has had something of a tumultuous week – first being promoted to Chancellor following Rishi Sunak’s resignation on Tuesday, then defending Boris Johnson during a gruelling broadcast round on Wednesday, before publicly calling for him to stand down on Thursday morning.
He is up against fellow Cabinet minister Mr Shapps in the race for leader, as well as his predecessor in the Treasury.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is also widely expected to stand, with the Mail on Sunday reporting she will seek to advocate “classic Conservative principles”, and could declare her candidature as soon as Monday.
Seen as a “safe pair of hands”, Mr Zahawi came to the education secretary role following the sacking of Gavin Williamson, who had become deeply unpopular with the public over the exams fiasco during the Covid-19 pandemic.
His tenure was not without difficulty, with recent attempts to see off potential strike action by teachers, which he had labelled “unforgivable” months after children returned to school following the disruption of the pandemic.
He first rose to prominence as the man who helped lead the vaccine rollout during the Covid crisis.
The MP for Stratford-on-Avon since 2010, Mr Zahawi has often made much of his most famous constituent – William Shakespeare.
On Tuesday night, in taking the Chancellor role, he had decided to try to save Mr Johnson from a comedy of errors – but it was not long before the curtain came down on the beleaguered PM’s premiership.