D & Lie: What Lies at the Heart of Tory Party Diversity?
There are two words that summarise the Conservative party over the last month. Lies - just how many the outgoing prime minister told, and diversity - that of the prime ministerial candidates.
When we say diversity in this context we really mean ethnic and or gender diversity. The chance of the next prime minister being a White man is apparently low, which - given the make-up of the Tory party is majority White, male (and from the south east) - seems to indicate that leadership representation is not really about being of the same identity as the masses of your audience.
Identity doesn’t seem to matter here. Tory Party member Andrew Bridgen recently said, “I’m delighted at the diversity of the potential slate for Conservative Party leader — and it’s all on merit”. “It’s not the colour of someone’s skin, their gender or their sexuality that matters. In the Conservative Party, it’s what’s in their head, and equally important what’s in their hearts.”
Does it matter if our PM is Black or Brown?
In a utopian world it wouldn’t. However the papers and the history books will no doubt call Rishi ‘the first Asian PM’ or Kemi ‘the first Black female PM’ - giving both of them much to talk about with Barack Obama over tea when they’re contemplating their memoirs.
Over in the US many are applauding the Tories for being Britain’s ‘Party of Diversity’, and while we might want to worry about who could follow a melanin-skinned leader, perhaps there are lessons to be learned - after all, I meet countless businesses who are clamouring to hire more ‘diverse’ candidates and to have more ‘diverse’ leaders.
It appears David Cameron was the Party’s first real Chief Diversity Officer. While on the outside many see the party’s reputation as racist and Islamophobic, on the inside there are more non-white members than any previous cabinet. All of this was masterminded by Cameron, who says ‘we were all white men - so I did something about diversity’. He fast-tracked women and minority candidates into seats - particularly those who followed the rags to riches, or Empire to empire tale. These candidates were one of countless immigrants who came from the Empire, only to build their own empires in the United Kingdom just as we saw in Rishi Sunak’s launch video.
A Bow and Harrow through the heart
Many of those immigrants live in two areas of London and are proof that B.A.M.E. ain’t the same. Over in Bromley-by-Bow, 70% of residents are from a minority ethnic group. Of the total number of residents, 44.9% are of Bangladeshi heritage - and the Labour party won all three seats in the recent May elections. Over in Harrow, 61.8% of residents classify themselves as from a minority ethnic group. Of the total number, 26.4% are of Indian origin - and the Tory party won a ‘shock’ victory in the same elections.
As an Indian born in Harrow, I wasn’t surprised by the news. I’ve been amazed by how the make-up of the area has changed during my lifetime. When my mum moved into a suburban street in the area in 1983 she was one of few Asians. Now she is in the majority, which I’ve witnessed as the names on the Neighbourhood Watch letter have changed. The Post Office used to be staffed by an Indian family, now the restaurants are all full of middle class families - the very families whose roots are intrinsically linked to the colonial history of this country.
However last week, as I visited my mum for a few days, I couldn’t help but notice something as I walked the dog around the streets. More and more of the houses, owned by Indians, have now got automatic gates. A childhood friend told me they’re in response to increasing car thefts, but we couldn’t help but reflect on how unfriendly the gates have made the area. As a petrolhead, I shudder at the thought of my car being stolen, but I’m not sure locking myself off from the world for the protection of a depreciating asset is what’s in my heart.
As a child we could go up and knock on each other’s doors - interacting and integrating into each other’s lives. Now, as adults, we have to stand at the gate, waiting to be allowed entry or to be spoken to through a machine. The reality of visiting a neighbour comes with questions about power and technology I would never have imagined in the nineties.
The heartbeat of the nation
We’ll soon find out if we’re about to make history with its first ever ‘diverse’ prime minister, and we can expect more of this in the news over the coming weeks. Even if Rishi or Kemi can convince their party, they’ll still have an entire country to win over in a general election.
Only then will we find out how far diversity alone can get us, and whether indeed it’s a good thing in the way that is being reported today. If the streets of Harrow are anything to go by, we might want to consider whether diversity alone is going to make the country more inclusive and equitable, or if in fact it’s going to separate us even more.
A view from Asad Dhunna, Chief Executive Officer of The Unmistakables