The new chancellor is continuing his rapid recent ascent which saw him only become a junior minister in 2018, and first enter the cabinet, as education secretary, less than a year ago.
The key to the 55-year-old Stratford-upon-Avon MP’s rise is his stint from 2020 to 2021 as undersecretary of state in the health department – or “minister for vaccines”, in the shorthand for that job.
Zahawi gained huge credit for the UK’s very rapid initial rollout of Covid vaccines, something regularly cited by Boris Johnson as one of the defining achievements of his time in office.
When the role ended, a reshuffle to cabinet was inevitable, and in the education job Zahawi has again been a solid minister and good media performer, albeit someone whose reputation was inevitably helped by succeeding the hapless Gavin Williamson.
Zahawi has in recent months been talked about regularly as one of the contenders to succeed Johnson, and he has a personal backstory to match his obvious ambition.
Born in Baghdad to Iraqi Kurd parents, Zahawi arrived in the UK aged nine, speaking no English, and has talked eloquently about the prejudice he faced. A co-founder of pollsters YouGov, Zahawi has also made considerable sums from the oil industry, and is one of the UK’s richest MPs.
His self-made status is seen by some as an asset in what seems a likely battle to take over from Johnson – but he would also face scrutiny of his business career and many outside financial interests.