FIRST, a quick explanation about how we pick the 101 most influential Asians in the UK.
Basically we begin with a long list which gets reduced after many passionate debates, usually harmonious, to the final 101. But with each passing year, the task gets harder, simply because there are so many new people to choose from. We could easily produce half a dozen alternative GG2 Power Lists which would all be credible. This means a lot of very good people get left out.
What exactly is “influential” in the Asian context? The Oxford Dictionary defines influential as “having great influence on someone or something”. And influence is “the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behaviour of someone or something, or the effect itself”.
It could also be “the power to shape policy or ensure favourable treatment from someone, especially through status, contacts, or wealth”.
As far as the Asian GG2 Power List is concerned, we consider if a person is influential within an organisation, whether he or she is a game changer and, perhaps most important of all, a force for good within British society as a whole. Does he or she inspire others?
Each year, as a matter of policy, we refresh the GG2 Power List by replacing a quarter of the entries from the previous year. It is only a snapshot of people who have made a difference over the past 12 months. This year we have 23 new names. There are also 28 women on the list, which is some way off from having a 50-50 gender balance.
At the top, the home secretary Sajid Javid and the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, have swapped places from the previous year. It was not a difficult decision to give the number one spot to Javid. There have been other Asian cabinet ministers before, but to get one of the great offices of state does represent a landmark.
That they both happen to be children of Pakistani bus drivers – David Cameron has called them “the new Etonians” – is perhaps a reflection of changing Britain as well.
In a speech, Javid was generous in paying tribute to Diane Abbott, who, in 1987, became the first black woman to be elected to parliament. That election also saw the arrival of three other non-white MPS – Keith Vaz, Paul Boateng and the late Bernie Grant. In a real sense, they were the pioneers in whose footsteps others such as Javid and Khan have followed.
What our GG2 Power List shows is that on the big issues – party politics or Brexit, for example – it is now commonplace to find Asians on opposing sides.
Once upon a time, it would have been unusual to find an Asian flying the Tory flag, at least in public. It is worth remembering that the Tories were represented by the likes of Enoch Powell, which rendered the Conservatives – to borrow Theresa May’s phrase – as the “nasty party”.
In September, the Conservative Friends of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh combined to host a dinner to celebrate Javid’s appointment as the first Asian home secretary.
To be sure, he was being entirely partisan, but in his keynote address he made it clear that it was now morally acceptable for Asians to back the Tories and it was entirely possible to be proud to be Asian and British.
“One of the remarkable things about my parents’ values is that though they were cultivated half a world away and they boast a very different cultural heritage, they are the exact same values that make up the DNA of the Conservative party,” Javid told his audience.
“But I firmly believe that you are bigger than the cultural heritage you represent,” he went on. “As Britain looks outwards to restore its place on the global stage, you are a core part of the country’s offering.
“As we ask ourselves what kind of country we want to be, you are a key voice in that conversation. And ultimately when the dust settles, you will have played a decisive role in our country’s success. Because as British Asians we have found ourselves – not as outsiders (like his late father) with £1 in our pockets – but as custodians of the greatest attribute to define what it means to be British.
“Not a special interest group or another demographic to be courted, but an indispensable asset to British society, not as a feckless subject of the Labour party that tells us what they need to do to unlock our talents but as driving force in the Conservative party which reflects the best of our values – British and Asian.”
The other side of the political debate is represented by Khan, who was elected mayor after winning the biggest electoral mandate given to any politician in the country.
A few Asians are born influential because of the powerful families to which they belong; others acquire influence; and some have influence thrust on them by the prime minister. Although this is unlikely in the present set-up, what the prime minister giveth, she could just as easily take away. Meanwhile, in marked contrast, Khan cannot be sacked by Theresa May. And that is having enormous influence.
From a wide field of possible political entrants, we have picked only a few. Among them are Shailesh Vara, minister of state at the Northern Ireland office, whose work could not be more critical to the future stability of the province; Suella Braverman, parliamentary under-secretary in the department for exiting the European Union; Nusrat Ghani, assistant whip and parliamentary under-secretary at the department for transport; and Rishi Sunak, MP for Richmond in Yorkshire, and parliamentary under-secretary at housing, communities and local government. Also in is the Labour MP for Feltham and Heston, Seema Malhotra, who left Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet early on but is a member of the select committee on exiting the European Union.
On the Brexit debate, Anand Menon, professor of European politics and foreign affairs at King’s College London, and Shanker Singham, director of the international trade and competition unit at the Institute of Economic Affairs, have offered reasoned arguments but on opposite sides – the former was for staying inside the European Union, the latter against. The voice of Gina Miller, daughter of Sikh parents from erstwhile British Guiana, is often controversial but is certainly heard. She did a star turn, for example, at the Lib Dem conference.
What is noteworthy is that year by year, the sectors from which the names are drawn – from politics and business to television, cinema, showbiz, modelling art, law, banking, science, medicine and the media – grow more diverse.
In the world of films, the rise of Riz Ahmed, who has featured in cover stories in the New York Times Magazine and GQ, suggests he has broken the glass ceiling. And to his credit, he has used his position to speak out on the need for greater diversity.
The 2018 Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy, the 250th, gave pride of place to Sir Anish Kapoor’s sculpture.
This year, there are three judges – one male, Sir Rabinder Singh, from the court of appeal, and two women, Dame Bobbie Cheema-Grubb, at the high court, and Anuja Dhir, at the Old Bailey.
At one stage, the Financial Times tossed in the name of Baroness Shriti Vadera, chairman of Santander UK, the only woman to head a British bank, as a possible successor to Mark Carney as governor of the Bank of England. And Sir Suma Chakrabarti is likely to get another big job when he steps down in two years as president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
There have not been too many policemen before but Neil Basu, whose job is to keep the nation safe, is a new entry ranked third. Basu, assistant commissioner for specialist operations in the Metropolitan Police and the national lead for counter-terrorism policing, is by far the most senior Asian police officer in the country. He is on TV reassuring the country every time there is a terrorist incident.
In his interview, he urged more Asians to join the police. “I think there are very few finer jobs than being a police officer,” said Basu.
“Do I recommend it? Yes, I do. And by the way, we are recruiting. I have been 26 years a Metropolitan Police officer and never looked back. I think it’s an extraordinary job.”
TV confers stardom on people, as demonstrated by the examples of Anita Rani, Naga Munchetty, Ranvir Singh and Dr Ranj Singh.
Ireland already has an Indian-origin prime minister (Taoiseach) in Leo Varadkar. Maybe Britain will have one, too, in the not-too-distant future. That said, there are enough role models in our GG2 Power List to show that Asians can choose to do anything they want, providing they have the right qualifications, and feel they are an integral part of this society.
Putting the GG2 Power List together was fun but I will let readers into a little secret. The most difficult part was deciding where to drop the guillotine – who was 101st and who was pushed to 102nd. But there is always next year.