Whatever happened to the party of the White patriarchy?
The presence of prominent women candidates should come as no surprise given the party has already produced two female prime ministers — Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May — to zero for opposition Labour. The Tory membership can think of nothing better than a return to the glorious days of Thatcher (which is why one of the leading candidates, Liz Truss, is forever striking Maggie-like poses).
The prominence of minorities is new. In 2005, the Conservatives had only two non-White MPs. That’s changed dramatically — all the way to the top ranks of the party, including the last three chancellors of the exchequer in a row: Javid, Sunak and Zahawi. Before the recent party ructions they also held the jobs of home secretary (Priti Patel), health secretary (Javid), business secretary (Kwasi Kwarteng) and education secretary (Zahawi).
The Conservative Party has done a much better job of diversifying than other parts of the British establishment, which has focused instead on the politically correct trappings of rainbow flags and diversity courses. The civil service has always been run by a White man. The armed forces have not yet produced a BAME chief of staff. A tiny slither of FTSE 100 chairs, chief executive officers, chief financial officers and company directors are from minority backgrounds. The intelligence services are still the same color at the top as they were in the days of George Smiley, John Le Carre’s fictional spymaster.
Few other right-of-center parties around the world come close to what the Tories have done. Indeed, under Donald Trump, the Republican Party was in danger of becoming the party of White reaction against an increasingly diverse society. Among GOP up-and-comers, former UN ambassador Nikki Haley dropped her first name, Nimrata, and converted to Christianity from Sikhism; and former Louisiana governor Piyush Jindal called himself “Bobby” and converted to Christianity from Hinduism. In the UK, Sunak took the oath of office as chancellor with his hand on the Bhagavad Gita and placed Diwali candles on the steps of his office on Number 11 Downing Street.
How did this extraordinary revolution come about? The Tories grasped the enormous power of “sponsored mobility” — that is, spotting potential superstars when they are still young and promoting them rapidly through the party ranks. The Labour Party should have far more potential ethnic minority leadership candidates than the Conservatives, given that Labour won some 62% of that demographic at the most recent election compared with the Conservatives’ 24%. But Labour relies on talent bubbling up on its own rather than being given a helping hand. The result is that many Labour minority MPs are unimpressive machine politicians and a few are self-dealers. Labour’s leader, deputy leader and shadow chancellor are all White.
The Tory breakthrough came in 2005. David Cameron came up with the idea of the party’s central office nominating A-list candidates for local districts to consider. That preserved the constituencies’ much-prized sovereignty but forced them to consider people different from the White men they’d traditionally favored. Sunak wowed the voters in Richmond, Yorkshire, despite the fact that he was practically the only South Asian face in the constituency.
The left might instinctively think of minorities as victims of structural oppression who bristle at the sight of a union flag or a statue of Winston Churchill. That tells us more about the delusions of White university lecturers than it does about the beliefs of immigrants. Many revere the symbols of the country that they have chosen as their home and loathe the virtue-signaling version of “equity, inclusion and diversity” that is institutionalized on the left.
Javid likes to point out that he made it to the top of British society despite the fact that his father worked as a bus driver. Britain provided him with a first-class education and a career as a banker before he became a politician. In her maiden speech as an MP, Kemi Badenoch thanked her chosen country for giving her a chance to live the “British dream.” She’s so anti-woke that, at her launch event, her staff used masking tape to divide the unisex lavatories into male and female.
The Conservative Party is particularly appealing to two groups of upwardly-mobile minorities: scholarship boys and girls who won places in Britain’s great public (i.e, private) schools, on the one hand, and the children of small business people, on the other. Sunak’s parents — a doctor and a pharmacist — had to scrimp and save to send him to Winchester College. He repaid their efforts by becoming head boy, going on to Oxford and Stanford Business School, and eventually making a fortune in finance. The ranks of ethnic minority Old Etonians include Kwarteng and, a future star, Bim Afolami. Patel’s parents were refugees from Idi Amin’s Uganda; they established a chain of newspaper shops in the UK. Badenoch grew up in Nigeria and returned to Britain at 16 where she supported herself working at McDonald’s.
The Conservative Party’s diversity contains big warnings to the left. One that you need to fight the opposition that you have rather than the one that you wish you had. Jolyon Maugham, a prominent leftist Queen’s Counsel, recently made a fool of himself, not for the first time, by asking Sunak, the current front-runner and former chancellor in a tweet, “Do you think the members of your party are ready to select a brown man, Rishi?” Today, a poll by Conservative Home shows Rishi among the top three contenders — the other two being, a White woman, Penny Mordaunt, and a Black woman, Badenoch.
The diversification of the Conservative Party is a good thing for both Tories and the UK. It’s obviously good for the party because it provides it with a stream of talent while also increasing its appeal to other minorities (and White liberals). But it’s also good for the country because it prevents politics from polarizing along racial lines — and also because it prevents the left from having a monopoly on questions such as assimilation and diversity.
Britain has plenty of serious problems at the moment — not least, the fact that the country’s long-standing problem with productivity was, at the very least, allowed to fester thanks to the combination of Brexit and the incompetence of Boris Johnson. But the UK remains a global example when it comes to assimilation. Britain was the first country to have a Jewish prime minister, Benjamin Disraeli; the first to have a female one, Thatcher; and may well be on the verge of becoming the second major Western democracy to have a non-White leader. All three achievements will belong to the Conservatives.
More From This Writer and Others at Bloomberg Opinion:
How Brexit Winnows the Candidates to Succeed Boris Johnson: Adrian Wooldridge
Boris Johnson Exits, But the Damage to the UK Will Linger: Max Hastings
• Britain’s Imperial Nostalgia Should Follow Johnson Out: Pankaj Mishra
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Adrian Wooldridge is the global business columnist for Bloomberg Opinion. A former writer at the Economist, he is author, most recently, of “The Aristocracy of Talent: How Meritocracy Made the Modern World.”
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