The fact that the conservative Rishi Sunak is the British prime minister for the first time is proof of tolerance – both in the country and in his party. But his government’s policies are anything but tolerant.
He is in favor of tightening immigration and asylum rules – although he himself is a descendant of migrants. Following the appointment of Rishi Sunak as the new British Prime Minister, many have inferred a special sensitivity to minorities from his Indian origins. But none, my observer.
Rather, Sunak and his government represent a right-wing conservative policy. The best example: Interior Minister Suella Braverman, also with Indian roots. A few weeks ago, the representative of the right-wing party said with a smile that it was her “dream” that before Christmas London would deport asylum seekers to Rwanda by plane.
With the election of the Hindu Sunak, a “person of color” made it into the highest political office in Great Britain for the first time. The term is used to describe people who are exposed to racism, for example because of the color of their skin. The personnel was recognized across party lines as an example of the positive development of British society. US President Joe Biden spoke of a milestone. Many members of the kingdom’s large Indian community are proud that one of them has made the leap to the highest political office.
Ethnic minorities as a fig leaf?
To make the dimension clear: When Sunak – mother a pharmacist, father a doctor and both born in East Africa – was born in Southampton in 1980, there was not a single “person of color” in the British Parliament – although many were descendants of Indian, Pakistani or Caribbean migrants lived in the country. Sunak’s Conservative Party in particular pats itself on the back for being the first to send a descendant of migrants to Downing Street. The Tories are happy to point out that there are hardly any non-white top politicians in the main opposition party, Labor.
But critics call this misleading. “Elevating members of ethnic minorities to prominent positions provides the fig leaf of diversity to hide the party’s racist policies,” writes Kehinde Andrews, professor of Black Studies at Birmingham City University, in a op-ed for CNN. Indian writer Pankaj Mishra writes in the Guardian newspaper about Sunak’s Tories: “His hasty promotion to 10 Downing Street now encourages outrageous racists to present themselves as representatives of ethnic diversity.”
The conservatives have long been criticized for undermining democracy on the island with draconian laws. They don’t just want to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda, regardless of their escape history. They have also significantly increased penalties for people who topple over statues of controversial figures whom many believe are responsible for crimes committed by the Empire during its colonial days. Protests can be banned if there is a fear that loud music will annoy local residents.
“The fact that his skin is brown and his parents are migrants does not mean that he automatically has any affinity for the millions of black and brown citizens who are victims of his party and its policies,” says Professor Andrews. Sunak’s rise only proves that ethnicity is not important in supporting the Tory line. It is also often said that the ex-investment banker, who is married to a rich Indian entrepreneur’s daughter, doesn’t even know the problems of “normal” immigrant descendants because he was raised at a private school.
A consequential problem of colonization?
Sunak is by no means the only prominent immigrant Tory politician. When the party determined the successor to scandal-ridden Prime Minister Boris Johnson in the summer, more than half of the applicants were “persons of colour”. But the attitude to the migration issue was the same, including that of Kemi Badenoch, who has ancestors from Nigeria and is now Minister for Women and Equality, and Nadhim Zahawi, who once came as a refugee from Iraq. Sunak has also spoken out in favor of the Rwanda flights, for which Priti Patel – predecessor of Secretary of the Interior Braverman and also a child of migrants – was responsible.
But why are those who, thanks to open arms in Great Britain, being able to make a career deny people with similar fates the same opportunities? Colonial history plays an important role for writer Mishra – and above all the decolonization in Africa in the 1960s. At that time, many Indians, once sent to Africa by the British colonial power as cheap labour, moved on to London. They spoke good English, were hardworking and often educated. According to Mishra, they saw themselves as winners alongside the “white ruling class”, but the Africans as losers. Well, so the reverse conclusion, they defend their sinecure.