Will Britain Show the Moral Courage to Get a Non-White Prime Minister?

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In their two-century-long rule of the Indian subcontinent, the British are estimated to have plundered close to $45 trillion. That, evidently, is a whopping number. In a way, India seems to have played a big financial role in building modern-day Britain. One would therefore expect the United Kingdom, which has supposedly left its dark era of coloniality behind, to not discriminate amongst its own citizens on the basis of how they look – especially by virtue of the colour of their skin. In much of the world, former chancellor to the exchequer Rishi Sunak is piqued to be the obvious choice to succeed Boris Johnson. Is this sentiment echoed by the Brits, and more importantly, by the Tories?

In an ideal world, the desire to have a Prime Minister who can potentially navigate the British economy towards glory should be echoed by the Conservative party. The choice of the voters of Britain, frankly, does not matter, since a parliamentary election is not underway in the UK. What is happening is that a few hundred thousand members of the Conservative party have been tasked with the job of selecting the next British Prime Minister. Will Rishi Sunak be able to emerge victorious in the given demographic?

Turns out, Rishi Sunak might not make Prime Minister, for now at least.

Why is that? Well, a big, non-transformable parameter is at play. Rishi Sunak is an Indian-origin leader, and is not White.

Rishi Sunak’s Hue a Disadvantage?

According to a poll conducted within the British Conservative Party, Minister of State for Trade Policy, Penny Mordaunt would emerge victorious in a dual contest with Rishi Sunak, or any other Tory leader who makes it to the finales of the prime ministerial championship. Asked who they would choose as Prime Minister, 27 per cent of Tories said Penny Mordaunt would be their first choice. Kemi Badenoch came second at 15 percent, followed by Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss, at 13 percent each.

This comes despite Rishi Sunak scoring big wins in the first and second rounds of voting by Tory MPs. During the second round of voting, Rishi Sunak emerged at the top with 101 votes in his favour, while Penny Mordaunt came in second with 83 votes. That is indeed a big feat, albeit not big enough to make Sunak the next, and first-ever non-White Prime Minister.

Rishi Sunak might emerge as one of the finalists in the prime ministerial contest within the Conservative party. He will then have to face close to 200,000 voters of the Conservative party, and it is there where the Indian-origin leader will face a very tough battle.

Rishi Sunak might emerge as one of the finalists in the prime ministerial contest within the Conservative party. He will then have to face close to 200,000 voters of the Conservative party, and it is there where the Indian-origin leader will face a very tough battle.

A majority of common Tory members do not seem inclined to vote for a non-White Prime Minister. Rishi Sunak definitely has parliamentarian friends who have been voting in his favour, but the vast majority of Conservatives in Britain will not be as enthusiastic about a man with Indian roots ruling over not just the country, but also leading their party. Statistically speaking, Rishi Sunak’s performance in the first two rounds has not been as impressive when seen in the context of previous intra-party leadership contests. The votes he received in the first round of voting – 88 – were less than what previous first-round leaders who ended up becoming Prime Ministers got.

Will Britain Show the Moral Courage?

Make no mistake, choosing a non-White Prime Minister will take a lot of courage on the part of the Tories. It will be an unprecedented selection – the kind of which has so far been alien to British democracy. That is why Rishi Sunak’s candidature has caught so many eyes around the world. Britain today stands at the cusp of scripting history. By electing Sunak, UK would do justice to its own claims of having a mature and time-tested democracy – the kind of which it tried exporting around the world during its colonial escapades.

Whether Rishi Sunak makes it to the top office in UK or not will also stand to testify whether the monarchy has really begun viewing Indians as ‘equals’ – something which was certainly not the case about 80 years ago. This prime ministerial selection is not just about giving Britain a new leader. It is more about gauging whether the UK has truly embraced inclusivity – to the extent that it resoundingly votes in favour of a man who does not happen to be White, and yet thinks he can make Prime Minister.

It is not as if Rishi Sunak in any way is underqualified or not eligible for the top post. He is a British citizen with alma maters like Winchester College, Oxford and Stanford University. At Oxford, Sunak studied philosophy, politics and economics; subsequent to which he gained an MBA from Stanford. After graduating, he worked for ‘Goldman Sachs’ and later as a partner at the hedge fund firms ‘The Children’s Investment Fund Management’ and ‘Theleme Partners’.

Rishi Sunak saved the Boris Johnson government a lot of embarrassment. His work as finance minister has not been perfect, but it has indeed been commendable. He steered the British economy when it was getting battered by the pandemic. He appeared to be one of the more responsible constituents of the Johnson cabinet. Will any of it count, though?

Also Read: Rishi Sunak a Favourite But it Doesn’t Guarantee Victory, Previous Tory Leadership Fights Reveal

Rishi Sunak is as British as one can get. Yet, if he does not win the Prime Ministerial race, the same can be attributed to the colour of his skin, his roots and of course, to the race-centred myopia of hundreds of thousands of Britishers. Sunak’s loss in a general election would not have magnified his racial identity as much as a potential loss in an intra-Conservative fight promises to.

All eyes are now on the UK. It faces a litmus test. Will it be able to accept a non-White person as Prime Minister? Will it have the courage to prove the world wrong and declare that it has truly arrived as a mature democracy where anybody, irrespective of the colour of their skin, can become Prime Minister? The fifth of September is when we will all know.

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