After the defeat of the Liberal candidate Dadabhai Naoroji in 1886 for the parliamentary seat of Holborn, Lord Salisbury, the leader of the Conservative Party, proclaimed his doubt whether the English would “elect a black man.” Naoroji’s election in 1892 to become the first Indian MP disproved Lord Salisbury’s assertion.
Over a hundred years later, David Cameron stood beside Narendra Modi in front of 60,000 British Indians at Wembley and boasted that his party now had the highest number of British Indian MPs in history. He also predicted it wouldn’t be long until the country had its first British Indian Prime Minister. Seven years later, one of those MPs from 2015, Rishi Sunak – a British Indian and Hindu, has taken on the most important job in British politics, and it’s something we should celebrate.
As a Labour Party member, I would have wished it would be my party that had this record. A party committed to equality but has so far failed to elect a female or ethnic minority as a leader or to any great offices of state is disappointing. As a British Indian, today I am proud of what he’s achieved because it represents an achievement of a generation of Indians like my parents who made this possible.
Representation matters, and seeing Rishi Sunak in the top job will spur a new generation of young leaders in this country to take an interest in politics and thus enrich our democracy and representation. He has utterly broken the glass ceiling, and this can only be a good thing.
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He has undoubtedly inherited a poisoned chalice. He has no mandate, and the Tories are deeply divided and unpopular. His membership base would probably not have voted him in, and he will likely lead the Conservatives to an electoral defeat in two years. It is also true that he eventually got the top job on a technicality, and his wealth and privileged upbringing played a significant role. That doesn’t matter today because it is a day my parents would never have expected when they came to this country.
Today and for weeks and months to come, millions of Indians worldwide and here in Britain will be talking about this over the dinner table with pride. It will feel not so much like Rishi Sunak’s achievement but the achievement of every person of colour that moved to this country. Those who migrated here made it their home, fought racism, built community organisations and support networks and allowed their children to stand on their shoulders and flourish. They will feel this is their story, and rightly so.
The UK is one of the most successful multiracial democracies in the world. There is representation in every corner of British society, business, media, entertainment, education and politics. Of course, many ceilings still exist to break, and many forms of inequality continue to stifle the opportunity to progress. We’re a country that others have historically looked up to, and under this Conservative government have lost our way and eroded our soft power because of Brexit, scandal and economic mismanagement. This moment goes beyond and gives us a chance to show the world this great country is all about.
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We are not at the mountain top yet, far from it, but this is a summit many believed would never come, so let us celebrate it.
Hersh Thaker is the Co-Founder of the Good Plate Company. He works in product development for a global energy company, with a focus on electric vehicle (EV) charging. He's also a school governor at Cedars Academy.