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Sunak shows there’s no need for ‘BAME’ shortlists.

Updated: Oct 25, 2022

Today is a momentous day, Sir Graham Brady the Chair of the 1922 Committee announced at 2pm that Rishi Sunak is now the leader of the Conservative Party. The first British Indian (and practicing Hindu) and what a day to win, on Diwali.

The leadership contest was another divided one; questioning how we even ended up in a situation whereby the former Prime Minister was in Number 10 for a mere 44 days. But the leadership election also demonstrated just how divided the party is, especially between the Conservative Parliamentary Party and the membership. This is worth paying attention too, especially when one considers the reason the Conservative Party is one of the oldest and most successful political parties is because of the ability of being flexible – being able change with the times whilst also being a ‘broad-church.’ As much as I celebrate Sunaks’ success – I do wonder how he’ll attempt to reunite the party.

Now, the main purpose of writing this piece was Sunaks’ success has reminded me, prior to the 2019 General Election – Diane Abbott MP tweeted saying there was a need for ‘BAME’ shortlists. In that piece, I argued against it and 3 years later – I’m still against them, and my reasons remain the same. There are many critiques; firstly (and most importantly) positive discrimination is still discrimination; next does Abbott really think ‘BAME’ people aren’t worthy enough to contest against white peers; not only does this create a racial hierarchy but it also demonstrates her thinking is very ‘backwards.’

When it comes to the Labour Party – on more than one occasion, I have highlighted it appears the Labour Party are no longer interested in winning and attracting the ethnic vote. This is not a mis-guided judgement I’ve made either, instead my view comes from the research I’ve completed for my BA dissertation ‘British Hindu Voters and the Conservative Party: A Case Study on Leicester East’, and my MA dissertation ‘Is British Indian a Redundant Term: A Case Study on British Indians in England.’ It’s also something I will be exploring in my PhD Research.

Given I wrote my original piece ‘BAME Shortlists are a no go’ almost 3 years ago, prior to the 2019 General Election, and the Labour Party was being led by Jeremy Corbyn, who was a problematic party leader – particularly for British Indian voters. He demonstrated anti-Indian views, and the party parachuted in candidates – who do little justice for the constituency, one only has to indicated another looks into Claudia Webbe, the Labour Leicester East candidate who was parachuted in – and arguably has raised racial tensions through her provocative views. Since then however, things for Labour have now changed. Sir Keir Starmer isn’t a bad leader and from what we’ve witnessed from him these past few weeks – he does pose a strong challenge the Conservatives. If the Labour Party can genuinely put the work in

What will be interesting going forward, is how political parties will continue to encourage members of all ethnicities and genders to put themselves up for elections. Rishi Sunak has demonstrated you don’t need a ‘BAME’ shortlist to rise to the top. On Sunaks’ success, it would be a mistake to ignore two things in particular.

Firstly, how Sunaks’ upbringing has aided his rise to the top of British Politics. It’s no secret that he’s attended top educational institutions and was a successful banker before becoming a politician. I quite frankly am relieved that the new leader of the Conservative Party had a career outside of politics before being elected, it makes a change. However, one thing I am continually seeing is many tweets critiscing Sunak for his upbringing, for his parents having worked very hard to send him to excellent schools – and then having gone onto Oxford University to complete his Bachelors, and then going to Stanford University to gain his MBA. His story is one of success and hard work paying off – something that we don’t seem to see anymore - or we see very little of it in modern British society. I would argue that modern British society needs to regain this desire and hunger for aspiration – for wanting to break the glass ceiling - whether that be race, gender, age or class.

Secondly, one cannot forget the role and legacy of David Cameron. When he was elected leader of the Conservative Party in 2005 made a commitment to increasing the number of women and ethnic minority MPs. Cameron achieved this by creating an “A list” which had 500 individuals who wanted to stand for election and narrowed it down to between 100 to 150 candidates and these were the priority candidates. This ‘A list’ wasn’t a shortlist, rather it focused on encouraging people to step up to stand, all part of Cameron’s commitment to “re-brand” the Conservative Party because he “ran on a platform of ‘change to win’ and was determined to modernise the party, starting by addressing the appalling lack of diversity of Conservative candidates and MPs. To me, this agenda was never about political correctness it was about political effectiveness.”

It seems fitting to end this piece, the same way I ended my original piece in 2019 by saying – yes, ethnic minority representation needs to increase but making politics more accessible through unbiased political education in our schools, holding events which suits the livelihoods is the way forward, not singling out ethnic minorities via BAME shortlists.

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