A Record Number Of MPs Of Colour Have Stood For Prime Minister. This Is How People Feel About It

"Representation is important in politics, but only if they represent more than just the same skin tone as me.”
Your new prime minister?
Getty/HuffPost UK
Your new prime minister?

Rishi Sunak, Sajid Javid, Kemi Badenoch, Nadhim Zahawi, Suella Braverman, Rehman Chishti. All Conservative MPs, all running in the leadership contest for prime minister. All people of colour.

The record number of leadership contenders from minority ethnic backgrounds have been celebrated by some – particularly as 6.9% of the UK population are from Asian descent while 3% are Black.

But under a Tory government which has been accused of racism, Islamophobia, xenophobia and creating a hostile environment for immigrants, others say this achievement is dulled.

Kemi Badenoch, for example, has never been far from controversy in her role as Minister for Equalities. Writing in The Times, she claimed the UK is “falsely criticised as oppressive to minorities”. And last year, during Black History Month, she rebuffed calls for more teaching of black history and white privilege in schools.

Meanwhile in his leadership campaign video, Rishi Sunak tells of how his Indian parents settled in the UK and opened a pharmacy. So far, so humble. But he omits a few details on the wealth that has helped him along the way. The former chancellor, a millionaire and the richest man in the House of Commons, was later criticised after a video from 2001 emerged where he admitted he had no working class friends.

A placard opposing the deportation of refugees to Rwanda is seen during the demonstration in Parliament Square.
SOPA Images via Getty Images
A placard opposing the deportation of refugees to Rwanda is seen during the demonstration in Parliament Square.

Sajid Javid, a Muslim MP who has spoken of being the son of a Pakistani bus driver, has also been accused of forgetting those who he claims to represent. His own career in international banking again has received less screen time.

These MPs have also supported now disgraced prime minister Boris Johnson, who once spoke of Black people having watermelon smiles, used ‘piccaninnies’ (a racist term to describe Black children), and likened Muslim women to letterboxes, after which there was a 357% increase in Islamophobia.

So, how do people of colour really feel about the six leadership contenders?

Finn*, an 18-year-old from Hertfordshire, believes the candidates of colour are upholding a system that perpetuates racism, rather than working to dismantle it.

The student, of West-Indian heritage, says: “I can’t really respect any Tory MPs of colour, when the party they represent and support has directly harmed British people of colour for years, with examples such as the Windrush scandal or their general attitudes towards immigrants of colour.

“As a queer Black young person, not a single thing they do benefits me.”

Finn points out that he’ll have move debt than previous generations when he graduates. He also says “attitudes to the LGBTQ community are regressing under them, climate change isn’t being addressed — they don’t even believe in institutional racism. They truly have nothing to offer me.”

Last year, the government’s long-awaited landmark report on racism – commissioned in the wake of the Black Lives Matter resurgence – controversially found no evidence of institutional racism in the UK. Instead, it claimed that racism was not the reason for most disparities between ethnic minorities and their white counterparts in the UK.

“There is a lot of evidence to the contrary,” says Finn. “All this would be upheld by any of the potential prime ministers of colour. I don’t think it’s progressive to have a PM of colour if they will simply double down on racist policies. Any progress is simply superficial and based solely on optics.

Finn sees the importance of representation in politics but says it needs to go deeper than ethnicity or gender. “We could have any number of minority MPs, but if they all hold the same regressive views, the rest of their community won’t benefit,” he says.

“Honestly, I’d rather see a white MP who is committed to progress and equality, rather than a Black one who supports the current institution.”

A protester during a demonstration in Whitehall last month.
SOPA Images via Getty Images
A protester during a demonstration in Whitehall last month.

Tasnim,* who is a 40-year old Bangladeshi accountant from Bristol, agrees with Finn. “I think that representation is important in politics, but only if they represent more than just the same skin tone as me,” she says. “I’d like to see more genuinely working class MPs getting into higher positions of influence.”

Tasnim believes there’s a good chance that the next prime minister will be a person of colour. “If a person of colour becomes prime minister, but has policies that harm POC, that representation will set us back far more,” she says.

“Mrs Thatcher’s policies set women in work backwards, rather than implementing policies that help women. I see the current cohort of POC candidates doing the same thing.”

James Truscott, a sports commentator and journalist who’s half Jamaican, is concerned that the Conservative party “uses MPs of colour as justification for their brand of white supremacy”.

“In their eyes, anyone who agrees with their pre-held beliefs on race issues is correct and everyone else is wrong,” the 23-year old from Salford believes.

“It’s confirmation bias and the Tories use it as a trump card to evade criticism on race issues or accusations of racism, because one black or Asian person agrees with them.”

Trustcott wants to see the leadership race move away from identity politics, saying “what someone does is more important than who they are”.

“Ultimately, if you don’t stand up for your own race in the way that an MP should stand up for their constituency then what’s the point?,” he asks.

But some people of colour do believe the diverse lineup of potential Conservative leaders is a step in the right direction. One reader, who wishes to remain anonymous, says: “I don’t think anyone can honestly say it’s not progressive. Whether it’s beneficial, meaningful, representative is a different question.

“The only ‘non’ white Prime minister we’ve had in history was Benjamin Disraeli, last term ending 1880, and he faced a lot of antisemitism.”

In a few months time, the successful Tory candidate will replace Boris Johnson and we could have the first prime minister of colour. But is Britain ready for it? And equally, what will this mean for people of colour living the UK?

We’ll just have to wait and see.

*Some surnames have been omitted to offer anonymity.

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