By Nirj Deva
I TRIED not to whoop with joy last Friday (26) as I saw the unfolding story of Boris Johnson’s appointments to his new cabinet and government.
The chancellor is my friend Sajid Javid, son of a Pakistani Muslim immigrant; the home secretary Priti Patel from a Ugandan Indian Gujarati migrant family who worked with me for Iain Duncan Smith; international development secretary Alok Sharma, whose father Dr Prem Sharma from a distinguished New Delhi family is my very dear friend; Lt Col James Cleverley, now chairman of the Conservative party whose mother was from Sierra Leone; Lord Ahmad in the Foreign Office, of Pakistani immigrant parents; Dr Kwasi Kwaeteng, from an immigrant family from Ghana and one of my successors as chairman of the Bow Group; Nadim Zahawi, minister for industry whose family fled Saddam Hussein’s Iraq; Nusrat Ghani, whose parents were from Azad Kashmir; and the amazing Rishi Sunak, born in 1980, who made the cabinet after four years as an MP.
What a far cry from the journey I had to make in trying to break the glass ceiling of shock, displeasure, wonder and outright amusement when I started to find a seat as a Conservative MP in 1985. The Conservative party in the Commons was then an all-white affair with no MPs of colour, while Labour, prominently represented by Keith Vaz, had a few. But I did not give up on the party as many had done. I kept going and after over 100 seats and interviews, I was selected for Hammersmith in 1985, and Brentford and Isleworth in 1991.
It has been an extraordinary journey fortified by some great people in my life. First by Margaret Thatcher who, after I had lost Hammersmith by 2,000 votes, had arranged for me to stand next to Disraeli’s chair at the Carlton Club at the state opening of parliament’s party. She strode up to me, grabbed my hand, fixed me with that stare and said for all to hear, including my mother: “You are NOT giving up.”
Second by Norman Tebbit who publicly supported me during my marathon round of interviews. Third by Peter and Virginia Bottomley, by Michael Brown then MP, Sir Gerald Howarth, Peter Lilley, and Sir Ivan Lawrence. Finally, Michael Howard who, more than anyone, and later David Cameron, quietly changed the party to accept the modern reality of a multi-ethnic, multi-religious Britain, crying out to be more integrated against Labour’s divisiveness.
Now the sheer guts of Boris Johnson, whose children are a quarter Indian, has made sure the Conservatives are the party for BAME voters. We are the real party of One Nation, a party for those who work hard, save, educate their children, for those who are aspirational, eschew handouts and want to improve themselves. Under Boris, these values have come together to propel only one criteria for advancement, namely merit, in a nation of equal opportunity.
Nirj Deva is the first BAME Tory MP in post-war Britain who has been in politics for more than two decades.