Will the UK finally have its first ‘Brown’ PM

Published July 9, 2022
BEN Wallace tops the list with 13pc support, according to new snap YouGov polling of 716 Tories.
BEN Wallace tops the list with 13pc support, according to new snap YouGov polling of 716 Tories.
Sajid Javid
Sajid Javid

LONDON: From political pundits and bookies to ‘psychic’ seals and fortune tellers, the question of who will be the Conservative party’s next leader — and the UK prime minister — is being hotly debated on screens, at homes and in pubs across the UK.

Since Boris Johnson’s resignation on July 7 was forced by junior ministers, around 10 names have been floated as contenders for the key slot, though not all of them have said that they want the job. Half of these MPs and ministers are from ethnic minority backgrounds.

In 2021, 14 per cent of the UK population was from a minority ethnic background. Following the 2019 general election, six cabinet members and 10pc of Members of the House of Commons were from ethnic minority backgrounds.

Sajid Javid has held various cabinet positions and is widely believed to be a man to watch for the race. Born to Pakistani immigrants from Toba Tek Singh who moved to the UK in the 1960s, Javid was born in Rochdale and grew up in Bristol. He has served in several cabinet positions under three Tory PMs since 2012, even getting the top job of home secretary in 2018.

Sajid Javid has the experience, Rishi Sunak the charm; polls clearly favour Ben Wallace

Most recently, he was in Johnson’s cabinet as health secretary. Appointed to the post as the UK was in the throes of the pandemic, Javid authored a ‘post-crisis blueprint’ for how to renew growth across every part of the UK. In the past, Javid made a bid for the Conservative party leader post but bowed out to support Johnson.

It was Javid’s dramatic resignation letter this week that triggered the avalanche of government departures which eventually sealed Johnson’s fate.

Ben Wallace
Ben Wallace

He wrote, “The tone you [Johnson] set as a leader, and the values you represent, reflect on your colleagues, your party and ultimately the country. Conser­vatives at their best are seen as hard-headed decision-makers, guided by strong values. We may not have always been popular, but we have been competent in acting in the national interest.

“Sadly, in the current circumstances, the public are concluding that we are now neither. The vote of confidence last month showed that a large number of our colleagues agree. It was a moment for humility, grip and new direction. I regret to say, however, that it is clear to me that this situation will not change under your leadership — and you have therefore lost my confidence too.”

With his letter, seen by many as a veiled leadership bid, Javid in recent days is seen as having set the direction for the Tory party, though a common criticism against him is that he has not served in any cabinet position long enough to have had an impact.

While Javid is seen as a serious contender by analysts, a snap YouGov poll of Conservative party members revealed he was not even among the top five leading candidates.

Though the YouGov poll places Ben Wallace as a clear favourite to win the top slot in the Conservative party, Rishi Sunak, another cabinet member and ethnic minority politician, is not too far behind. Born to Indian parents and married to the daughter of an Indian billionaire, Oxford and Stanford-educated Sunak became MP in 2015. Just five years later, he was Johnson’s chief financial minister.

Rishi Sunak
Rishi Sunak

According to the BBC, Sunak is “one of the first to quit the cabinet … and the most high-profile figure so far to announce his candidacy”.

Sunak was seen as a hot favourite for the slot of PM for months, with research published in December 2021 showing the ex-chancellor had a better chance of challenging Keir Starmer’s Labour than Johnson. Papers at the time featured headline after headline about ‘Dishy Rishi’ and how he would be the ideal candidate for a Tory MP in the event that Johnson stepped down.

The media’s darling, Sunak was even described by a commentator in January this year as “the only choice” as he was then “untainted by scandal”. Unfortunately for the chancellor, the controversy over his wife’s tax affairs and a fine for breaching lockdown rules seriously dented his reputation. Still, the YouGov poll shows Sunak as the closest contender to Wallace in a separate head-to-head poll.

Other key contenders from ethnic minority backgrounds include Nadhim Zahawi, born in Iraq and the replacement for Sunak who resigned soon after Javid. Indian-origin Attorney General for England and Wales Suella Braverman and Home Secretary Priti Patel, too, are being floated as names for the top slot, though the odds that either will win appear slim.

Currently, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace is leading the poll. A former soldier who became MP in 2005, Wallace has won international recognition for his leadership during the Ukraine crisis. He served in the army in Germany, Cyprus, Belize and Northern Ireland where he helped thwart a bomb attack by the Irish Republican Army. At present, Wallace is dodging questions about whether he will run for leadership, insisting he will continue to focus on his job.

On the question of whether the UK is ready for its first ethnic minority PM, Jonathan Portes, Professor of Economics and Public Policy at the School of Politics and Economics of King’s College, told Dawn, “Yes. Sunak, Javid and Nadhim Zahawi are all plausible contenders [Suella Braverman, who has also announced her candidacy, less so]. But their success or failure will not be determined by their ethnicities, but by their policies and personalities.”

Published in Dawn, July 9th, 2022

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