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Rishi Sunak’s daughter was initially confused when she saw him going out the door the day after his resignation, asking him why he was still wearing a suit if he no longer had a job.

But Sunak was heading to a more organised operation than Boris Johnson’s Downing Street ever was. The basement floors of the Grade II-listed campaign headquarters on Dean Trench Street in Westminster have a distinctly “tech bro” vibe with trainer-wearing aides, motivational posters and colourful sofas.

The offices usually house the brand consultancy Bridge F61, co-founded by the Tory marketing guru Will Harris, part of the team that devised the slogan “The future’s bright, the future’s Orange” for the mobile phone firm.

Sunak professes to have a hip-hop playlist to get pumped up for speeches, though he admits to listening to the Global station Heart 00s on the way into HQ. And he sticks to Savile Row suits rather than Mark Zuckerberg-esque hoodies.

He starts the last leg of the race for the Tory leadership trailing his rival, Liz Truss, in polling and prepared to offer very little in terms of giveaways to party members. It is a difficult gamble, a campaign defined by caution and stressing only the candidate’s competence.

His team believe that one of Sunak’s biggest strengths is his media performances, though he can still often sound tetchy and thin-skinned. In debates he often looks far more at ease with his material than Truss does, and they believe her awkwardness will turn people off. “The more they see of her, the more people like him,” one said.

There will be attempts to recast his achilles heel – as a billionaire who can hardly claim to be in touch with working people – as a strength. Sunak has told his team he wants to talk openly about his experience as a second-generation immigrant and sell the idea of Britain as a place where people can aspire to make their fortunes, though much of his was acquired from his tech magnate father-in-law.

Sunak and his wife, Akshata Murty
Sunak and his wife, Akshata Murty. Photograph: Reuters

The campaign is moving soon to bigger premises in Holborn, the nexus between the City and old Fleet Street. It needs more staff space for a big operation. The aim is to get a slew of new endorsements from MPs in the coming days, and the team believe they will get them from more than half the parliamentary party.

Sunak is particularly proud of his campaign team’s data-gathering nous, starting from their campaign launch, and everything is branded with their QR codes, included branded suncream – “Ready for Rishi, Ready for Sunshine” – which is handed out to journalists along with a Twix and a Sprite, reputedly the former chancellor’s lucky charm snack before a big budget speech. Despite his self-professed “Coke addiction”, he has cut down to just one Coca-Cola a week.

The campaign mastermind is Liam Booth-Smith, the shades-sporting ex-Treasury aide who has long been at Sunak’s side, once pictured in a leather biker jacket and shirt unbuttoned to the navel as he walked alongside his boss.

Sunak’s chief spokesperson is his energetic Spad Nerissa Chesterfield, whose previous boss was Truss when she was trade secretary. No 10’s Ben Mascall jumped ship to run the media operation.

Another key figure is Sunak’s digital guru Cass Horowitz, credited with overhauling his boss’s image at the Treasury with slick videos and social media promotion.

Sunak’s campaign video raised eyebrows for being long in the making – his domain was registered in December, at the height of the Partygate furore. But allies of Sunak swear Horowitz produced it in just a few hours, scrabbling around for family pictures on the night before its launch.

Sunak has a coterie of committed MPs who know how to do numbers – the former chief whips Mark Harper and Mel Stride, plus Grant Shapps who ran the spreadsheets for Boris Johnson’s leadership campaign.

He is expected to lean on his endorsements from cabinet heavyweights such as Dominic Raab and Steve Barclay, but aides also point to the backing of next-generation female ministers such as Vicky Atkins, Helen Whatley and Gillian Keegan, all of whom could be in line for promotion.

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Sunak will also use the campaigning skills of Ruth Davidson in Scotland and his ally Ben Houchen in Teesside, crucial for getting MPs in the north-east of England onboard to build his credibility in the “red wall”. Most coveted would be an endorsement from Kemi Badenoch, who worked with Sunak at the Treasury and who ran an insurgent rightwing campaign that could give Sunak credibility with that part of the party.

Barclay is the most whispered name for Sunak’s chancellor; the pair worked together at the Treasury through the pandemic. Sunak would be likely to put his campaign chair, Oliver Dowden, an old friend, at his side at the Cabinet Office. And if Sunak wins her backing, Badenoch would also be likely to get a cabinet promotion.

Inside Team Sunak: tech bro vibes and Twixes as No 10 push ramps up

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