As I write it seems Dishy Rishy is the front runner among the Tory MPs. He could very easily top the poll as one of the two candidates who is presented to the Conservative party members to decide who takes over, as Boris Johnson put it, the greatest job in the world. But unlike Johnson, who not only topped the poll among MPs but then romped home among the activists, Rishi Sunak may find that the majority of the activists do not see him as Dishy Rishi who can move that easily from No 11 to No 10 … writes Mihir Bose
Who could have thought that? That the Conservative party, the historic right-wing party of Britain, could by this autumn have an Asian Prime Minister. If that does happen the Conservatives will be able to claim, and with some good reason, that contrary to all the claims of the Labour party to be the progressive party; it is the Conservatives that are the real radicals. It was the first one to have a woman Prime Minister, it has since had another, and should Priti Patel get elected then the Conservatives will not only have the third woman prime minister but an Asian woman. This is something that would be beyond Labour at present.
Yet such a reading of the situation would be simplistic. As I write it seems Dishy Rishy is the front runner among the Tory MPs. He could very easily top the poll as one of the two candidates who is presented to the Conservative party members to decide who takes over, as Boris Johnson put it, the greatest job in the world. But unlike Johnson, who not only topped the poll among MPs but then romped home among the activists, Rishi Sunak may find that the majority of the activists do not see him as Dishy Rishi who can move that easily from No 11 to No 10.
The scenario might unfold as follows. Liz Truss could be the candidate, who along with Sunak , goes forward from the MPs to the party membership. Among MPs Sunak may well top the poll and easily beat Truss. But this is where the divide between the MPs and the party at large could become evident. The veteran political commentator Nigel Dudley points out, “The Tory MPs cover a wider spectrum of views than the membership which tends to be the right and more insular.”
To put it more bluntly rather too bigoted and supporting an Asian Hindu to become Prime Minister may be a bridge too far for them. This is despite the fact that he is the richest member of parliament and the fact that this child of immigrants has prospered is testimony to the opportunities this country provides immigrants. All this may not be enough to overcome the deeply ingrained anti-immigrant views of the party when it comes to people of colour. For many of them it would be one thing for Sunak to be in No 11, another for him to be in No 10.
Of course if in a contest between Sunak and Truss, the party membership should opt for Truss it would mean that the party activists who have always been very anti-Europe and drove the vote for Brexit would have opted for a Remainer in Truss as against a Brexiteer in Sunak. And a Brexiteer who did not come to that view reluctantly and as a matter of convenience but has always held that view. Should against this background Truss beat Sunak it will show that for all the claims made on behalf of the Conservative party race still matters and white will always trump brown. However, even if that happens the fact that the Tory leadership race is having so many Asians and black candidates needs to be celebrated and shows that in this regard Britain is far ahead of other European countries and also, of course, America.
The greatest democracy in the world is yet to have a female President and while Kamala Harris of Asian origin is vice President her election does not suggest she is part of any new wave changing the historic nature of American politics. That is not a surprise.
Contrary to what many people believe race in Britain has always been different to that in America. Slavery was the original sin of America in the way that it never was in this country despite this country’s involvement with slavery and the rich profits it derived from it.
And while race was a driving force of British imperialism, the British did not completely shut the gate on people who were not white. This was in stark contrast to both America and south Africa. Cricket provides the best example of this. Ranji is a classic story of brown immigrant success story at the height of the empire. He came to this country towards the end of the 19th century, a commoner who was not sure his cricketing talents would be recognised. He left this country to return to India having become one of the greats of cricket and used his success as a cricketer to became a prince and gain the state of Nawanagar as his princely domain.
In contrast Americans did not allow the “Negroes” , as blacks were then called, to play major league baseball. They had to form their own “Negro League”. It was only in 1947, the year India became independent, that Jackie Robinson became the first black player to play Major League baseball. America’s continuing struggles with race shows how the country which boasts of how it takes in immigrants from round the world is still to come to terms with the descendants of the non-white immigrants.
As Lord Meghnad Desai has often told me he could not achieve in America what he has done in this country. He taught at Harvard but in America he could not have been elected to the Senate. But in this country he is a member of the House of Lord’s. Racism exists in this country and many suffer from it but not to be aware that despite race doors can open is both wrong and does not help the anti-racism struggle.
The fact that the doors may not open widely enough for Rishi Sunak, or any of the other Asians standing to become the Prime Minister, does not obscure the progress we have made on race. And this progress can best be seen by the fact that Disraeli the only Jew to become Prime Minister only did so having already converted to Christianity. Should Rishi become Prime Minister he will certainly not have to give up Hinduism. He talks of his Hinduism with pride.
For the Labour party it raises important question as to why this great party of progress is so far behind the stupid party as many on the left have often called the Tories.