Britain was on the cusp of making history had Rishi Sunak, the former Chancellor of the exchequer, and British of Indian descent won. Ironically, it would have been in the same month when India overtook the UK to become the world’s fifth largest economy. But that didn’t happen and Liz Truss, former Foreign Secretary, won the Conservative party leadership in her bid against Rishi Sunak.
On September 5th, Liz Truss was declared the winner of the ballot of 172,000 Conservative members (generally over 55 years old and white men) to replace Boris Johnson as the Tory leader. However, Rishi Sunak was rejected not because he was brown or Indian, but because Liz Truss was probably liked better; she offered hope and lower taxes, which Conservatives always like, versus the tightening of belts approach Sunak was saying he would implement.
She won 81,326 votes on the members’ ballot, almost 21,000 more than Sunak, who garnered 60,399 votes. Her win at 57.4% share of the members’ vote against Sunak’s 42.6% was less than Boris Johnson’s in 2019.
Read more: PM Boris Johnson set to leave his office
Today’s Britain is a far cry from what no doubt his parents’ generation must have faced when they arrived and Enoch Powell made his famous racist ‘rivers of blood speech in 1968’. Indeed, it has transformed hugely even from 1990 when Conservative party MP Norman Tebbit lectured South Asians on who they should support on the cricket field (Britain).
What a phenomenal social change in British Society! What a turnaround from the days when ‘no Dogs and No Indians’ signs were seen in many places in the UK when Rishi Sunak’s parents immigrated from East Africa to Britain in the 1960s.
The UK, for all the decrying of racism (and no doubt it still exists), has seen many South Asians and other minorities in senior positions in Johnson’s cabinet alone, Rishi Sunak (Chancellor of Exchequer), Priti Patel (Home Secretary – Indian descent), Sajid Javed (Secretary of State for Health & Social Care and former Chancellor of Exchequer – Pakistani descent).
BAME (Black, Asian, and minority ethnic) is the umbrella term in the UK for people of color; interestingly, under PM Boris Johnson, over a fifth (21 percent) of the cabinet was BAME, compared to 11 percent as an overall proportion of the country. This is only the Conservative party at the national level. Similarly, the Labour party has many South Asian and other ethnic minorities playing an important role in politics at the national and local levels.
South Asian population in the UK has about Indians 1.45 million (2.3 percent), Pakistanis 1.17 million (1.9 percent), Bangladeshis 451,500 (0.7 percent), and other Asians. South Asians have entered British politics with their hearts and minds and are determined to own British society and use politics to improve their lot and that of their communities.
For the second generation who were born in the UK for them, their first allegiance is to the UK. They were born there. Their families all live there. They have a strong sense of being British, though they may identify as ‘British Asian,’ ‘British Muslim,’ or even ‘British Pakistani’ or British Indian, and so on. For them, politics is not about what they can do for their specific ethnic communities but rather, like any other ‘Britisher,’ about fighting on policies they believe in on the economy, foreign policy, and others.
The class-ridden and the racist UK of the 1960s has evolved to allow today the Sajid Javeds, Priti Patels, and Afzal Khans (Labour party Shadow Immigration minister), all coming from relatively humble homes, to find their role in senior positions in British politics.
Pakistan, by comparison, is still stuck in a rut with its religio-social elitist politics where only the feudals, those that have money, can participate in politics, and leadership can only be sought by the scions of dynasties. As a British-Pakistani, I am proud of what the UK has achieved so far (much more to do yet) but sad about how Pakistan has lost its way. People are the strength of any nation, and its a shame when a state forgets that!
Najma Minhas is Managing Editor, Global Village Space. She has worked in New York and London with the National Economic Research Associates and with the Investment Bank, Lehman Brothers and Standard Chartered Bank. She is an analyst and appears on many national Pakistani TV channels. She has contributed pieces for The Foreign policy, The Diplomat, Islamic, The Nation and other newspapers. She has Masters degrees in International Relations from Columbia University and in Economics from the London School of Economics. She tweets @MinhasNajma