• Friday, September 22, 2023


EXCLUSIVE: Is the UK ready for an Asian PM?

MAKING THEIR MOVE: Rishi Sunak (left) and Suella Braverman made it into the first-round ballot (Photo by Getty Images)


Senior Conservative parliamentarians have told Eastern Eye the country is ready for its first south Asian prime minister.

They believe the days of the Tories being considered as the “nasty and racist” party are over.

Four candidates of colour were among the eight nominated in the leadership race as Eastern Eye went to press on Tuesday (12), after prime minister Boris Johnson said last week he would step down.

Priti Patel, who was widely expected to join the contest, ruled herself out on Tuesday, while Sajid Javid dropped out just minutes before the nominations closed.

Earlier in the day, Rehman Chishti withdrew his bid after failing to get 20 MPs to support him.

Tory parliamentarians who spoke to Eastern Eye said the ethnic candidates had been backed by white MPs, and colour is no longer important.

Lord Rami Ranger
Lord Rami Ranger

“We’re 100 per cent ready for a south Asian prime minister,” said Lord Rami Ranger. “They have been in the cabinet for some time, and they have demonstrated their abilities and skills.

“There haven’t been any big issues being a south Asian secretary of state.

“The public has understood they are as capable, if not more, because they have to prove themselves more.

“They are always conscious they have been given this chance, and so they make sure they deliver what the public expects.”

Rishi for PM?

With defence secretary Ben Wallace ruling himself out of the race, Rishi Sunak is currently regarded as the favourite to become the leader of the Tory party and Britain’s first south Asian prime minister.

But critics have told Eastern Eye Sunak is tainted by his wife’s non-domiciliary tax status, and the news that he did not relinquish his US green card after becoming chancellor.

Sunak’s wealth and slick American presidential-style video announcement will also count against him among MPs and grassroots voters, said some sources.

“Rishi was very well known, very much liked before the budget, but since he raised taxes, he’s not as popular as he was during the pandemic,” said one parliamentarian who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

“Lately, he’s not been that popular either, so it’s very difficult to say whether he stands a chance at this stage.

“It also depends on what else comes.

“I think his green card and his wife’s non-dom status are potentially fatal, but the most fatal thing for the parliamentary party was raising taxes.”

he 8 Conservative Leader candidates (From the Left Clockwise) Penny Mordaunt, Rishi Sunak, Kemi Badenoch, Nadhim Zahawi, Suella Braverman, Liz Truss, Tom Tugendhat, Jeremy Hunt
The 8 Conservative Leader candidates (From the Left Clockwise) Penny Mordaunt, Rishi Sunak, Kemi Badenoch, Nadhim Zahawi, Suella Braverman, Liz Truss, Tom Tugendhat, Jeremy Hunt. (Photo by Getty Images)

But others have said the reaction to the tax arrangements of the former chancellor’s wife showed racism still existed in parts of the party.

“The grass­roots party member will listen to the arguments, but they will inevitably be reflective of society,” explained a senior Tory source.

“There will be an element not comfortable with ethnic minorities for cultural reasons. In a tight contest between two candidates, it could bring about hidden barriers, unconscious bias.

“You saw it to an extent. It was quite visible with Rishi’s mishap around the green card and his wife’s tax status.

“I think it’s intertwined a little bit with the politics of envy, with an element of immigrants being hungry to succeed and making it in a single generation.

“It’s difficult for some people to stomach.”

Political opportunities

Some parliamentarians question why so many candidates are throwing their hat into the leadership ring.

One Tory insider, who did not wish to be named, said it was “an incredible waste of time, damaging the party’s reputation and a ridiculous spectacle”.

Baroness Sandip Verma
Baroness Sandip Verma (Photo by Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images)

“You wouldn’t be surprised if Larry the Downing Street cat would be the next to declare his intention to stand,” they mockingly said.

“We know exactly why they are putting themselves forward. Some are staking their claim for a future leadership contest.

“However, others are using this to get a job in the new cabinet.

“This is selfishness at its worst, and it is unedifying, unnecessary and unforgiveable.

“We have long memories, and we won’t forget their stupid, silly, political and petty moves.”

Others, though, said it showed the depth of talent in their party.

“I talk to colleagues all the time, and I’m just so glad so many candidates are coming forward,” Baroness Sandip Verma said.

“Look at the diversity of it. Isn’t that just brilliant?

“A better way of looking at it would be that they know the party has changed, enough for them to be able to throw their name into the ring.

“They have a good opportunity to be heard, and I think it’s great to be able to have that sort of feeling.

“I don’t agree that they ha­ven’t got a chance in hell.

“We should celebrate the fact we’ve got such a wide-ranging list of candidates, and I am really, really pleased about the number of women being put forward.”

Tories united

Senior Conservatives said the party needed to elect someone who could unite members and remove the perceived tarnished reputation that Tories are mired in sleaze.

Others said the new leader had to help the country out of the worst cost-of-living crisis in a generation.

“We need someone with the imagination to cut taxes in innovative ways,” said Lord Dolar Popat.

“For example, having a turnover tax on large corporates, rather than income tax or corporation tax, new ways of taxing where you can raise more yet it does minimum damage, and we don’t have to borrow more money.

“We need ideas like Rishi [Sunak] had during the pandemic, which means bringing down taxes and giving more money to those who need it, putting more money in our pocket.”

Lord Dolar Popat
Lord Dolar Popat

The peer wanted a leader who would encourage greater wealth creation.

“We need to reform a number of regulatory systems where we can encourage investment.

“SWe don’t celebrate wealth creation this country like America does.

“If you look at the number of companies gone public in the UK, it is a lot fewer than in America.

“We’ve got to create wealth, we’ve got to create jobs, and we’ve got to create income.

“This is where we need to be stronger, because we are a heavily regulated country and a heavily taxed country, and we need a chancellor who can reform this.”

Popat told Eastern Eye the key was to raise money without having to borrow.

“If you look at turnover tax, companies like Google, Facebook, BP, Shell, large corporates which pay very little corporate tax, this will hit them and not individual people,” he said.

“And the more people spend more money, the more tax they will be paying, which is fine because you’re taxing rich people rather than the poor.”

Challenges ahead

All Eastern Eye sources, on and off the record, agreed that the new occupants at Number 10 and 11 Downing Street would have to find ways to generate money, and cut taxes while controlling inflation.

“Having spent £400 billion during the pandemic, we are going to have to balance the books somehow,” one senior parliamentarian explained.

“Businesses benefited to a large extent, because of the furlough, business rate relief, and other support measures.

“Effectively, they are paying back some of this.

“If you look at the tax rates across Europe, in most cases they are higher in the UK.

“So, I don’t see the 25 per cent as a massively uncompetitive rate of corporation tax.

“What’s more important is business investment.

“What I would rather see is if we are going to have business tax relief, that they should be targeted on continuation of the super deduction.

“That means you get rewarded for investing and not just for making profits.”

Another issue affecting south Asians and other people of colour is the government’s decision to send asylum seekers to Rwanda while their cases are being heard.

The award-winning film maker, Asif Kapadia tweeted, “All these brown Torie$ who were cool ending freedom of movement, cool hanging out with racists, smiling with fascists, who stopped all Brits working & studying in Europe, were ok sending asylum seekers to Rwanda, now proudly talking about their parents who came here with nothing.”

Peers, such as Popat, defended the government’s decision.

“Immigrants, including myself, came here legally.

“We were genuinely legal asylum seekers, or we migrated here because we had British passport or we have British protected passports,” he explained.

“But now immigrants are using criminal gangs to get them here by paying them. So, they may not be genuine asylum seekers.

“Britain has a history welcoming genuine refugees – 100,000 from Hong Kong, 20,000 Ugandan Asians, 15,000 Afghanistan people and, as we speak, about 30,000 Ukrainians.

“We have a fantastic record of taking those who need help.”

Immigration problems

Ranger believes that the policy needs to be tried and tested before it is criticised or dismissed.

“The policy is meant to deter would-be people smugglers,” explained the peer. “If people know they will be sent to Africa, away from the United Kingdom, that might deter them from giving money to people smugglers or those people who are benefiting from this racket.

“This policy is meant to save lives and to save people from being exploited by the people traffickers. Let’s see what happens. If it doesn’t succeed, or it doesn’t produce the desired results, I am sure this policy will be scrapped.

“The government wants to reduce the suffering of people who get exploited.”

Beginning on Wednesday (13), Conservative MPs will vote on their preferred candidates until the top two remain.

Eastern Eye has learned that peers will wield influence when it come to the vote of party members, because many chair constituency parties.

This newspaper has also been told that while there remains a lame-duck government, civil servants will look to government-appointed ministers from the House of Lords to fill the vacuum.

The resignation last Tuesday (5) of Sajid Javid as health secretary started the wave of cabinet and junior ministers leaving the Johnson administration.

His excoriating resignation speech in the Commons the next day and resignation letters from 50-plus ministers ultimately forced the prime minister into announcing he would step down.

Rishi Sunak was the second big hitter to quit as chancellor after Javid, who denied last Sunday (10) they had made an electoral pact.

The question is whether the party will reward or punish the two.

“The Conservative party was the first to have a woman prime minister because that was good for the party,” Ranger told Eastern Eye.

“Rishi as the leader will demonstrate the independence of the party. It doesn’t matter where you’re coming from, what matters is what you want to do.”


The art of politics is knowing precisely whom to speak to and when, said one source to Eastern Eye.

That is why so few are ready to name their preferred candidate, just in case they get the call to serve at the prime minister’s pleasure, they told this newspaper.

What is true is that this is the most diverse political party leadership race ever.

Originally, six of the 11 who put their names forward were of colour, with four being south Asian.

Only Rishi Sunak and Suella Braverman got the necessary 20 votes to enter the first round of the race.

Pundits say that they expect Sunak to make the final two.

Rishi Sunak: A polished performer, his private education, reading politics, philosophy and economics (PPE) at Oxford and wealthy status puts him firmly as “one of us” among Tory MPs and grassroots members.

He surprised many by being selected to represent the Yorkshire seat of Richmond vacated by William Hague.

Lord Hague told Eastern Eye’s sister publication, the GG2 Power List, that Sunak would wake up at the crack of dawn and milk cows to show he understood his constituents.

But a smear campaign to try to stop him becoming the country’s prime minister began the moment he announced his candidacy.

The media revealed that he had registered the ‘Ready For Rishi’ domain name in December 2021, six months before there was ever a vacancy for the UK’s top political job.

The Telegraph also published a 421-word-memo sent around a Whats­App group, which lists all his supposed mistakes as chancellor.

For some in the party, this is not good news nor does it reflect well on the Conservatives.

“I have to say to you, growing up in this country, I would never have dreamed that having so many black and Asian Conservative candidates would even be remotely possible,” said one unnamed parliamentarian.

“This is astonishing progress in four generations, and we will have to wait to see whether we have smashed the ceiling enough.

“We, the party, need to be careful that we don’t let prejudice get in the way of the progress we’ve made.”

Suella Braverman QC: She was the first to declare that she would run for leader, and at the same time, she called on the prime minister, Boris Johnson, to resign while still serving in his administration as attorney general, a cabinet position.

Her parents, who are of Indian origin, emigrated to the UK in the 1960s.

Braverman, a Buddhist, is definitely on the right of her party – the 42-year-old is one of 28 so-called “Spartan” Tory MPs, who refused to back ex-prime minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal on all three occasions that it was voted on in parliament.

As part of her leadership challenge, she promised to “solve the problem of boats crossing the Channel”, deliver “Brexit opportunities” and to “get rid of all of this woke rubbish”.

Such rhetoric will enamour her to the Tory faithful.

“I’ve learned, over the years, there is an element of the south Asian population who are in the category of pulling up the drawbridge,” one senior Tory parliamentarian told Eastern Eye.

“I don’t think we’re immune from inconsistencies on this either.

“But I think the vast majority of south Asian candidates, if they’re honest to themselves realise that none of them would be here without a reasonably liberal approach to immigration.”

On Thursday (14), Braverman was knocked out when she got 27 votes, the lowest of the six candidates who made it through to the second round. 

The next vote will be on Monday (18), when another challenger will leave the race to Downing Street.

Sunak’s pitch

Former chancellor Rishi Sunak on Tuesday (12) marked the official launch of his bid to lead the Conservative party with a speech in which he pledged a “positive campaign” and added he will not “demonise” outgoing prime minister Boris Johnson.

Sunak, 42, admitted he had disagreements with his former boss but also praised him as someone who has a good heart.

“Boris Johnson is one of the most remarkable people I’ve ever met. And, whatever some commentators may say, he has a good heart,” Sunak said in his campaign launch speech in London.

“Did I disagree with him? Frequently. Is he flawed? Yes – and so are the rest of us. Was it no longer working? Yes, and that’s why I resigned.

“But let me be clear, I will have no part in a rewriting of history that seeks to demonise Boris, exaggerate his faults or deny his efforts.”

And he addressed some media reports last weekend of damaging briefings and an alleged “dirty dossier” doing the rounds of the Tory groups.

Sunak said, “I am running a positive campaign focused on what my leadership can offer our party and our country.

“I will not engage in the negativity that some of you may have seen and read in the media. If others wish to do that, then let them. That’s not who we are, we can be better.”

He reiterated that as a former chancellor, he would steer the economy in the right direction but would not be making “fairy-tale promises” on lowering taxes right away.

“We need a return to traditional Conservative economic values and that means honesty and responsibility, not fairy tales.

“It is not credible to promise lots more spending and lower taxes,” he said.

Other Tory opponents have promised tax cuts in their leadership pledges.

“So, that is my plan – tackle inflation, grow the economy and cut taxes.

“It is a long-term approach that will deliver long-term gains for families and businesses across the United Kingdom.

“I am prepared to give everything I have in service to our nation, to restore trust, rebuild our economy, and reunite the country,” Sunak said.

He explained that his plans to be leader were underpinned by values of “hard work, patriotism, fairness, a love of family and pragmatism”.

“Values that compel me to say it is completely unacceptable in this country that too many women and girls do not enjoy the same freedom most men take for granted in feeling safe from assault and abuse.

“That our natural environment is an inheritance we preserve and protect for future generations,” the father of two girls said.

Priti Patel

Home secretary Priti Patel on Tuesday (12) ruled out joining the race to be Britain’s next prime minister, saying she was “grateful” for the encouragement, but that her focus was on her current job.

“I will not be putting my name forward for the ballot of MPs,” said the 50-year-old British Asian cabinet minister.

She was speaking just hours before nominations closed on Tuesday.

In a statement, Patel said she would not standing for the Tory leadership and added she was not backing any candidate.

However, she did not rule out doing so later in the contest.

“As a lifelong and committed Conservative, I will always make the case for freedom, enterprise and opportunity and work with colleagues in order to deliver these values in government.

“Like all Conservative MPs and party members, I will be listening to cases being put forward by the candidates standing for the leadership of the party and trust the contest will be conducted in a good spirit that brings our party together,” Patel said in her statement.

Eastern Eye

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