The diverse race for British Prime Minister with Rishi Sunak, Suella Braverman and Kemi Badenoch


LONDON — In the race to become the next Conservative Party leader and then the next British Prime Minister, a Rishi, Suella and Kemi go up against Tom, Penny and Liz to replace a Boris.

The Tory candidates for leadership are the most ethnically diverse in British history – if not so much in ideology.

It’s a subject of pride – and some boasting – from conservative centre-right leaders, who seem almost dizzy, that their field is more diverse than previous battles for top spots within the opposition Labor Party, a centre-left movement that is seeks to represent minorities in Britain. It’s also far more diverse than the last Tory leadership contest, which Johnson won in 2019. Of the 10 candidates who entered this race, nine were white.

This year’s multicultural field is a topic of conversation and comment. But it’s not the dominant one. Taxes and living expenses are also notable. People care. But that seems normal now.

Whether Britain is evolving into a ‘post-racial’ country or whether it remains mired in systemic racism and colonialist attitudes remains a topic of debate here, with evidence for both sides.

But the diversity of candidates to replace outgoing Boris Johnson is one thing.

The candidates for the office of the next British Prime Minister

Suella Braverman made her pitch in front of conservative activists and lawmakers, saying, “Don’t vote for me because I’m a woman. Don’t vote for me because I’m brown. Choose me because I love this country and would do anything for it.”

Braverman, who serves as Attorney General for England and Wales, was born in London to parents of Indian origin who emigrated to Britain from Kenya and Mauritius in the 1960s.

British demographers use a kind of clumsy term to describe non-whites in Britain – BAME, for ‘Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic’, a collective term that has suffered considerable criticism.

The UK population is predominantly White British (82 per cent), with the second and third largest racial groups being Asian British (7 per cent) and Black British (3 per cent).

Regarding BAME, the four of eight candidates who started Wednesday’s leadership contest were Rishi Sunak, Suella Braverman, Kemi Badenoch and Nadhim Zahawi. When the first round votes were tallied, Sunak had won and Zahawi was eliminated along with Jeremy Hunt, who ran and lost to Johnson in 2019.

Two other prominent Tories – Home Secretary Priti Patel and former Health Secretary Sajid Javid – made a last-minute decision not to run.

Those who started the race are quintessentially conservative, perhaps even more so — though they differ on tax cuts and welfare spending, and some play more with cultural hot-button issues.

Announcing her bid for ITV, Braverman said she wants to cut taxes, slash public spending, stop migrants crossing the English Channel illegally in dangerous rafts and also “get rid of that woke junk”. Sunak also criticized “awkward, gender-neutral language”. Upon its launch, Badenoch supporters saw unisex toilet signs being replaced with signs for ‘men’ and ‘ladies’.

How the next British Prime Minister will be chosen

Today, this diverse field of candidates is no coincidence, but design.

It began in 2005 with the election of David Cameron as Conservative Party leader after Labor was defeated in the general election. At the time, the Conservatives had only two minority MPs in Parliament.

“Cameron was the modernizing leader of the Conservatives, a party then seen as traditionalist and narrow-minded. He was young, still in his thirties. Essentially, he argued that the Tories needed to change their sales force,” said Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London.

Bale said Cameron understands that many immigrants and their adult children are good targets for the party: They run small businesses and are family-oriented, suspicious of government and resistant to high taxes.

Cameron won his election as leader with a speech to his party activists calling for a “change to a whole new generation”. He said he wanted Conservatives to “feel good” again.

So Cameron urged his party’s local federations to find and promote younger, more diverse candidates running for parliamentary seats in safe Conservative Party constituencies.

Leading candidates today include Badenoch, elected in 2017 to the Saffron Walden constituency, which Bale described as “old Tory and whiter than white” and has been considered a “safe seat” for the Tories since 1922.

Launching her leadership campaign, Badenoch condemned the Johnson administration’s commitment to “net-zero,” a pledge to reduce carbon emissions over the coming decades to reduce future climate change, as “unilateral economic disarmament.”

Born in London to Nigerian parents, Badenoch spent most of her childhood in Lagos and the United States.

Tanya Gold, a columnist for the Daily Telegraph, wrote that the Conservative Party’s ethnic diversity “could be confusing and irritating to some leftists who think these people should be leftists because everything else is crazy”.

Conservatives note that they were the first party – and not Labor – to see a woman, Margaret Thatcher, as Prime Minister and then promoted another to the highest office, Theresa May.

Johnson continued the diversity push, appointing what he called “a cabinet for modern Britain”. The Economist observed: “Boris Johnson is such a vivid embodiment of white privilege that it’s easy to forget the diversity of his cabinet.”

Politics is politics, two of those different cabinet ministers – Rishi Sunak and Javid Sunak – last week initiated the government exodus that led to Johnson’s resignation announcement.

Sunak, the former Chancellor and Treasury Secretary, was born in Southampton, England, to parents of Indian origin who had emigrated from East Africa. Sunak attended some of Britain’s most elite and expensive schools, including Oxford. He is married to British-Indian fashion designer Akshata Murty, a billionaire daughter of the founder of Indian IT company Infosys. The couple were the subject of a recent mini-scandal which revealed that Murty filed as a ‘non-resident’ UK resident, meaning she paid no UK tax on almost all of her phenomenal fortune.

At the moment, Sunak is a top contender to replace his former boss. The diverse race for British Prime Minister with Rishi Sunak, Suella Braverman and Kemi Badenoch

Dustin Huang

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