The Spectator's Notes

The triumph of ethnic-minority Tories

16 July 2022

9:00 AM

16 July 2022

9:00 AM

If you had said, even ten years ago, that there was no chance of a white male cabinet minister becoming the next Conservative leader, you would have been greeted with incredulity. Yet it is so today. And it is good, because the change has happened on merit. When the Conservatives began advancing ethnic-minority candidates under David Cameron, I feared it would be tokenistic. One such appointment was making Sayeeda Warsi party co-chairman, only for her to preach about Muslim victimhood; but in general the doors to new talent were opened. I am not sure Cameron got quite what he bargained for, however, because the new entry could loosely be called right-wing. This should not be surprising, because most people of immigrant background, particularly if black or Asian, have grown up in a world where the left claims to speak for them. Many resent this. They have experienced Britain as a free and accepting country, often much more so than the country from which they or their parents came. In economic terms, they cherish opportunity – look at Rishi Sunak, Nadhim Zahawi, Sajid Javid and Priti Patel. In social terms, being on average more religious and family-oriented than indigenous whites, they are conservative – look at Kemi Badenoch and Suella Braverman. In both areas, they detest being ghettoised by the left. The Catholic Mrs Badenoch, for instance, who is married to a white man with whom she has three children, says she experienced almost no racial hostility in Britain until she encountered it from the left because she dared to be Tory. People like her are forged in a harder political school than people like Cameron, so they tend to be tougher.

Their optimism about Britain makes them much more appealing to voters than Labour’s ethnic minority MPs. As soon as Diane Abbott comes on the telly, you know you are in for a stream of grievance. Ditto David Lammy. In real life, he is friendly and amusing, but when on screen he shouts and scowls to feed his Twitter base. Their position is absurd: Ms Abbott went to Cambridge and Lammy attended Peterborough cathedral school and later studied at Harvard Law School. While white Conservatives tend to feel they are fighting a losing battle, ethnic-minority Conservatives have high hopes of owning the future. Margaret Thatcher turned the ‘disadvantage’ of her sex into a winner. They are doing the same with their ethnicity.

It is a great tribute to such people that they have marginalised racism in the Tory grass-roots. Older white people feel an almost indecent thrill to hear their own views reflected in a younger generation by people of different races. Which association would now block a candidate simply for being the ‘wrong’ colour? It is possible, though perhaps not likely, that the run-off in the current contest will be between two ‘people of colour’, and all but certain that one finalist will not be white. The party members voting will not object at all. In which other western country could the same be said?

Rishi Sunak is the establishment candidate, which, again, is an unprecedented position for a 42-year-old person of Indian parentage with three years’ experience of cabinet. He deserves this, in good ways and possibly less good ones. He is a thoroughly respectable, pleasant, intelligent, well-educated person with nothing known against him apart from the problem of his wife’s non-dom status, a political but not an ethical error. A wise parent would see him as the ideal son-in-law. On the other hand, his respectability may limit his ideas. Have you ever heard him say anything which differs from Treasury economic orthodoxy? With his Goldman Sachs background, vast wealth and apparently conventional views, might he not be Davos man reborn? These are real, not rhetorical questions. I do not know the answers. I hope we shall hear them in the coming week.

The other problem – oddly, for such an amiable person – is that Sunak is a divisive candidate because of his role in the downfall of Boris Johnson. The theory – somewhat conspiratorial, but not flatly untrue – is that Sunak was the chief cabinet instrument of Boris’s fall, and is the candidate set up by Dominic Cummings, perhaps even from the moment early in Boris’s premiership when Cummings persuaded his boss to sack Sajid Javid from the Treasury and insert Sunak. So the final round may be a fight between anti-Boris (Sunak) and pro-Boris (probably Truss), and therefore bitter.

Elsewhere this week, I drew attention to the incongruity of Penny Mordaunt as the darling of the Tory grass-roots. Her views on old British films and television series expressed in her recent book Greater (foreword by Bill Gates) target-bomb their sensibilities. It is not only on culture. Writing about Northern Ireland, she says Britain ‘should remember…that the EU contributed towards a settled peace in Northern Ireland’. Is that right? The EU had almost nothing to do with peace in Northern Ireland and is not a party to the Good Friday Agreement. Ursula von der Leyen attempted to invoked article 16 of the protocol to impede Britain’s vaccine rollout. The protocol itself, which insists on severing the province from free trade within the United Kingdom, has thoroughly unsettled peace in Northern Ireland.

The most touching photograph in downfall week was of Boris hugging a woman in the Downing Street hall. Ann Sindall has been with him ever since she joined as secretary to the Telegraph leader writers, under my editorship, in 1996, surely a record. Known for her total loyalty to Boris and her imperviousness to his excuses, Ann is very Yorkshire and no respecter of persons. It is alleged – though she denies it – that she once kept a caller holding without muting herself and shouted out: ‘It’s a funny bloke called Conrad Black on the line.’ He was the paper’s owner at the time.

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