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The Financial Express

Politics in a multicultural Britain


Politics in a multicultural Britain

That as many as eleven politicians in Britain have now made it known that they wish to be prime minister in succession to Boris Johnson is plainly mind-boggling. This is something rather rare in British politics. And it shows the emergence of a class of men and women who feel they have a right to lead the country, given their experience in government or confidence or both, and that under them people will be happier than before. Additionally, they feel they have the wherewithal to speak for Britain in the outside world.

Of course, through the process of elimination, by the ruling Conservative Party lawmakers and then the overall party itself, only two candidates will be left for the race to the finish. Of the eleven, two have failed to secure enough support from parliamentary colleagues to stay in the race and one has taken himself out of the running. It is therefore too early at this stage to make any prediction about the popularity or appeal of the candidates who have announced their intentions to lead the party and thus the country.

Some of the big beasts of British politics are in the race along with some fairly unknown faces. And politics being what it is, one is not quite sure who in this pack will emerge triumphant in the end. Back in 1990, a big beast projected to succeed Margaret Thatcher was Michael Heseltine. His candidacy collapsed and the rather under-rated John Major came out the winner.

So there we are. As every candidate for 10 Downing Street makes his or her pitch for the job, most of them are focusing on the tax cuts they will go for once they are in prime ministerial office. Given the rising cost of living in Britain, it is no wonder that all these candidates realise that mere rhetoric will not do. Indeed, in western politics, rhetoric has always been looked at with disdain, almost contempt. Candidates for political office have always been expected to offer substance, to buttress their ambitions with details of the policies they mean to pursue if they are elected to parliament or make it to ministerial jobs.

And so we wait for the end-game in today's politics in the United Kingdom. And while we do, we cannot but marvel at the societal change that has come over Britain in the past two decades, if not more. One only has to observe the mix of candidates seeking 10 Downing Street. Rishi Sunak holds faith in the Hindu religion; Sajid Javid, Nadhim Zahawi and Rehman Chishti are Muslims. With Jeremy Hunt, Liz Truss, Penny Mordaunt, Tom Tugendhat, Grant Shapps, Suella Braverman and Kemi Badenoch they form a rich cultural mix in the corridors of power.

For many of us, such a mix is surprising in light of the fact that we have grown to adulthood with the feeling that countries like Britain have only a single governing class, that exemplified by whites. In the 2000s, there were many in the United Kingdom who scoffed at notions of multiculturalism, an idea promoted by Tony Blair and his Labour government. And yet multiculturalism, and not just in politics, is the reality in the country today. Local councils are peopled by individuals whose ethnic background a few decades ago would have ruled out any chances of their participation in politics. Sadiq Khan, sometimes embattled in his position as Mayor of London, holds centre stage in national politics and one will not be surprised if he ascends to higher office someday.

This is not to argue that problems are not there in the United Kingdom. Indeed, there are, as the ceaseless debate on issues in parliament and in the media points to. But what impresses a visitor to Britain is the dimensions which culture, in nearly every sense of the meaning, has been expanding. Three women of Bangladeshi background --- Rushnara Ali, Tulip Siddique and Rupa Haq --- are members of parliament from the opposition Labour Party.

Anas Sarwar, who has a Pakistani background, serves as the leader of the Scottish Labour Party and is a member of Scotland's parliament. There are a good number of other politicians, with their ancestral roots in diverse regions of the world, who are today leading players on the British political scene. David Lammy is one. He is shadow foreign secretary in the Labour Party. Another, among the Tories, is Kwasi Kwarteng. Lutfur Rahman, who a few years ago was compelled to quit as Mayor of Tower Hamlets, has made it back to the position at elections held earlier this year.

Democratic societies rest, in our times, on a bedrock of inclusivity. Everyone must be taken on board, which fundamentally means that no defence of prejudice will be tolerated, that irrespective of religious belief, cultural inheritance and linguistic background, men and women will have the opportunity to make their contributions to a society of which everyone is an integral component.

British politics since the time Edward Heath ejected Enoch Powell (remember his 'rivers of blood' speech) from the Conservative Party in the late 1960s and since his government welcomed Asians forced out of Idi Amin's Uganda in 1972, has been on an upward trajectory. Society has therefore grown in health, in every sense of the meaning. Inter-racial marriages are an indicator of social evolution in the country.

At this point, one is not quite certain that Rishi Sunak will be the next occupant of 10 Downing Street even if he is the bookmakers' favourite. Politics is a hard calling. A few days are a long time in politics and fortunes may fluctuate between the announcement of a candidacy for high office and the eventual result. But what is moot in today's Britain is the sea change politics and with that society has undergone over these past couple of decades.

Back in the 1970s, if not earlier, people could hardly conceive of circumstances where individuals tracing their roots to Asian and African heritage could walk up to the front of the queue. They have earned their place. Besides, the promotion of an inclusive society in Britain, one that is decent and responsive to those who, having ties to their parents' ancestral homelands, now call it their country, has been the trend.

In the banks, in the shops, in transport and in the civil service, the fruits of multiculturalism draw attention, especially that of foreigners --- like this writer --- to the dynamism that is Britain in these times. A number of the contenders for the position of first among equals today have risen from humble backgrounds to be where they are today.

Which reminds us: years ago, a grocer's daughter rose to prominence through grit and well-shaped strategy to govern Britain for eleven years. The world knows her as Margaret Thatcher.

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