Six people who think they could be Britain’s Obama – Liberal Article
Identity politics is (unhelpfully) sweeping the West and an ensuing audit of our histories is in full swing. How do we fare compared to our American friends when it comes to minority leadership? One obvious comparison is that unlike the USA, which is yet to welcome its first ‘Madam President’, Britain has had two female Heads of Government. This is a great display of our record on women’s representation. However, we must remember that in 2008, the United States elected their first ethnic minority President in Barack Obama. Is it about time Britain did the same? Here are six people who think they could be Britain’s Obama:
Rishi Sunak (The Chosen One)
First up is current Chancellor of the Exchequer. The widely labelled ‘Dishy’ Rishi Sunak who has made quite the name for himself in recent months. Sunak was elected to the Commons just five years ago. This meteoric rise from Junior Minister in 2019 to the second most powerful man in Government is quite frankly, remarkable.
Just four weeks into the job, Sunak was faced with the economic minefield presented by Covid-19. He has been widely praised for his compassionate and reasoned response. With the Prime Minister and Health Secretary receiving widespread criticism, Sunak has so far managed to emerge unscathed – although how long that lasts remains to be seen.
Sunak will, of course, be judged by his management of the worst economic crisis in Britain’s history over the next few years. Get through it unscathed, and he could well succeed Boris Johnson as leader of the Conservative Party. Therefore becoming Britain’s first ethnic minority Prime Minister.
Sadiq Khan (The Top Dog)
Sadiq Khan has the biggest personal mandate of any politician in the UK’s history. 1.3 million voters backed him in the 2016 London Mayoral Election. Could this translate into a move to No.10? Having ruled himself out of the most recent Labour leadership contest in order to focus on a second term as London Mayor, Sadiq Khan has often been touted as a potential Labour Leadership contender. His reelection prospects look increasingly positive and he would likely approach the end of his second term as Mayor in 2024. Khan may then indeed follow in his predecessor’s footsteps to return to Westminster at the next General Election.
Back in the Commons after a potential 2024 General Election, Khan would be well placed for high office in case of a Labour victory. And, of course, the Labour Leadership in case of defeat. With three years in Government, five years as Shadow Justice Secretary and eight years as Mayor of London under his belt, Sadiq Khan would undoubtedly be a compelling choice for Labour members.
Could Sadiq Khan move through the same revolving door as Boris Johnson, and become our first ethnic minority Prime Minister? Just as Obama was for the US? Despite the range of hypotheticals, it’s certainly probable.
David Lammy (The Powerhouse)
From one Shadow Justice Secretary to another, David Lammy. The outspoken Labour MP for Tottenham since 2000 is another politician that could well become Britain’s Obama. Having served in both the Brown and Blair Governments, before losing the Labour nomination for the London Mayoralty to the aforementioned Sadiq Khan, Lammy has a wealth of political experience.
More recently he has since played a key role in the People’s Vote campaign. He has also spoken with authority on issues such as the Grenfell Tower disaster and the Windrush Scandal. This is often to the detriment of the Conservative Party. His elevation to the Shadow Cabinet after almost a decade on the backbenches puts him in a prime position whenever the next Labour leadership election comes around.
Lammy has done superb work the Lammy Review, assessing BAME outcomes in the criminal justice system. He has received fresh praise given recent events sparked by the death of George Floyd – further strengthening his position. His reaction to a new review to be led by the divisive Munira Mirza will give him an even more prominent voice while the UK continues to deal with the realities exposed by the Black Lives Matter movement.
Could Lammy make up for his previous defeat to Sadiq Khan in a hypothetical Labour Leadership contest? It would be ill-advised not to at least consider the prospect.
Rosena Allin-Khan (The Rising Star)
Yet another successor to Sadiq Khan, this time as MP for Tooting, Dr Rosena Allin-Khan entered the Commons just four years ago. Despite this, she defied expectations by propelling herself into second place at Labour’s recent Deputy Leadership Contest. She garnered far more support than other, better-known candidates.
Defying expectations is not an uncommon feat for Allin-Khan. Despite attaining two E’s and a U at A-Level, she went on to study medicine at Cambridge assisted by scholarships. After her unexpected success in the contest, Allin-Khan now attends the Shadow Cabinet as Shadow Minister for Mental Health. This bolsters her credentials as a potential leadership hopeful.
Her experience as a Junior Doctor and track record on humanitarian issues would make her an interesting and refreshing choice for Labour members. Allin-Khan could well defy expectations once again and usher in a new generation of leadership at a future Labour contest.
With her ‘Love Actually’ campaign strategy being ‘stolen’ by the Prime Minister, she clearly has a very broad appeal. Allin-Khan could well secure her vengeance and ‘steal’ his job by becoming Britain’s first ethnic minority leader.
Sajid Javid (The Veteran)
Sajid Javid has had a career of ‘firsts’. The first-ever ethnic minority politician to hold a Great Office of State, Sajid Javid was appointed as Home Secretary after the fallout of the Windrush scandal. Just a year later, he found himself with the keys to No 11 as Chancellor of the Exchequer. Once again the first-ever ethnic minority politician to serve in that position.
Elected as Bromsgrove’s MP in 2010, Javid has had ministerial experience for eight of the last ten years. His status as a political heavyweight in the Conservative Party is unarguable. Unlike some of his contemporaries, Javid’s public profile remains relatively untarnished.
Javid, of course, got very close to becoming Britain’s Obama. His candidacy for Leader of the Conservative Party in 2019 eventually ended in failure, although he placed fourth out of the ten candidates that contested the MP’s ballot. The first ethnic minority politician to contest the Tory Leadership, Javid has certainly made it easier for others to do the same in the future.
Perhaps most importantly, he emerged from his dramatic cabinet resignation with relative sympathy for his stand against Dominic Cummings’ encroachment on No 11’s autonomy. Finding himself on the backbenches for the first time in eight years, Javid now has ample time to work out a winning formula. Despite a career of firsts, when it comes to becoming the first ethnic minority Prime Minister – could it be second time lucky for Sajid?
Priti Patel (The Wildcard)
Very much the wildcard of the group, Priti Patel has had a newsworthy and sometimes controversial political career. However, our current Prime Minister is no stranger to controversy and blunder – so Patel should, by all means, be in contention.
First elected as MP for Witham in 2010, Patel has held ministerial office since 2014. In 2016, she was elevated to the Cabinet as Secretary of State for International Development. Her time at DfID met an abrupt end after unauthorised meetings with Israeli officials. However, it was not long before she made a triumphant return to Government as Home Secretary under Boris Johnson. Her ‘no-nonsense’ approach has attracted much criticism, with accusations of bullying leading to the bizarrely public resignation of her Permanent Secretary, Sir Philip Rutnam.
A former Referendum Party activist, and a core part of Vote Leave’s rockstar lineup, Patel is and has always been a staunch Thatcherite Eurosceptic. This ideological purity could play particularly well with party members as well as the now predominantly Eurosceptic parliamentary party in a future leadership contest.
Despite this, when considering Patel’s prospects of becoming Britain’s first minority PM – I would deem it Priti unlikely.
So who has the best chance to be Britain’s Obama? For the Tories, it has to be Rishi Sunak. The Conservative Party’s secret to four successive election victories is an ability for each leader to completely reinvent the party. Rishi Sunak’s cool, calm and collected manner, matched with his appreciation for knowledge and detail could be the perfect successor to Boris Johnson’s more heated and controversial time in office.
Looking at Labour – while Khan and Lammy are solid choices, it may be too late by the time Labour begin searching for a new leader. Rosena Allin-Khan however, offers a chance for Labour to try something radical and new. She would be not just Labour’s first ethnic minority, but their first female leader too. Her ability to overcome significant societal barriers would make her the perfect candidate to lead the first Labour Government in over a decade.
Despite British politics having gone through significant turmoil in recent years, Rishi Sunak and Rosena Allin-Khan give me real hope for the future.
Written by Guest Liberal Writer, Jeeves Sidhu
Point of Information
Although identity politics is not helpful, this analysis is accurate – a Conservative Response
Overall, Jeeves’ analysis is relatively agreeable. I fully concur that identity politics is not helpful. Mostly, I agree with Jeeves’ picks for Britain’s Obama, if not his conclusion.
Sunak would make a great and effective leader. For all the reasons Jeeves’ has mentioned. But the next few years will show if he’s able to deal with controversy. How effective his measures are will be crucial to any leadership bid.
I think Javid has the most chance of becoming PM. He has the most experience, having held two great offices of state. He would improve the Tory Party’s image over Islamophobia by holding an independent review. It is unfortunate he had to step down as Chancellor but now he can work quietly from the back.
Patel has very little chance of becoming PM. While Johnson is no stranger to controversy and blunder, he is more relatable and engaging than Patel. She was forced to exit after it came to light she had inappropriately met with senior Israeli figures. She was not strong under May. Her accusations of bullying are problematic. She is not another Boris.
Sadiq would make a poor choice. His support will not translate far outside of London or do well under first past the post. He hasn’t done a good job as London mayor. Boris was able to build up a persona and launch memorable initiatives. Sadiq has not done this. Granted, I don’t live near London. All I hear about is knife crime and Sadiq complaining about austerity. Instead of coming up with solutions like these to solve the problem.
David Lammy would make a good leader. Using his outspoken voice for race relations he will be able to successively implement several changes to remove institutional racism both the justice system and across society. He’s been an active force for change and has a wealth of experience. He should not be discounted because of his age.
I don’t think Rosena Allin-Khan would make it to leader. She’s inexperienced when compared to David Lammy and Sadiq Khan. But she would perhaps make a good health secretary. Due to her current experience, she would make a better health secretary. I am sure she would be able to be effective there.
Written by Junior Conservative Writer, Kieran Burt
The odds are stacked against a Britain’s Obama – a Labour Response
I really enjoyed this article. I think Jeeves has correctly identified the main contenders for the future ethnic minority Prime Minister of the UK. If it were just down to personal attributes and skills, I believe everyone except Patel (for the reasons outlined in the article) has a good shot.
The Conservative candidates have to contend with the double-edged sword of having been in power for so long. This means they can get more exposure and be better known by the public, something even Starmer is struggling with. But, this also means they can have more criticism levelled at them if they do run for Prime Minister. Overall, I think Sunak is the most likely candidate to win because his position as Chancellor has enabled him to grant lifelines to many people struggling during this pandemic. That won’t be easily forgotten.
For the Labour candidates, I think Dr Allin-Khan is least likely to become the future PM. This is mainly due to Labour’s poor (non-existent) track record of electing women as leader of the party. I would love to be wrong about this, though. Nevertheless, either Khan or Lammy would be great choices to run the Labour party and the country.
Whilst I think some identity politics can be helpful for bringing to light groups previously underrepresented and ignored in politics, I do not think ‘Britain’s Obama’ will be able to run successfully using this. Both of our female Prime Ministers have run campaigns that do not focus on them being women and Obama did not focus on his race.
I view both Sunak and Javid as the most likely contenders for this role. They are both known by the public already but, at least for the Conservative party base, are not too badly marred by any controversy. Whoever does succeed has a lot of factors stacked against them and will need not only their own skills but a lot of luck and the right circumstances.
Written by Guest Labour Writer, Freya Jhugroo
Hello I’m Jeeves, one of POI’s new Liberal Political Writers and currently a final year politics student at the University of Exeter. For the past two years I’ve also served as Founder & President of Model Westminster Exeter, a branch of national political engagement charity Model Westminster.
Hello, my name is Kieran Burt and I am going into second year at Nottingham Trent University studying Politics and International Relations. I first developed an interest in politics through reading the Dictator’s Handbook by Alastair Smith and Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, when I was 16, and have furthered my interest by studying politics at A level and now at university.
Hello, I’m Freya. I am going into my third year at Exeter, studying International Relations and Spanish. My main areas of interest are the environment, societal injustices and foreign affairs.