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Does a non-white prime minister mean change?

This article is over 1 years, 4 months old
A racist Tory party doesn’t change because Sunak is prime minster
Rishi Sunak outside Downing Street

Rishi Sunak is the first non-white British prime minister (Picture: Flickr/ Number 10)

Does it matter if we have a non-white prime minister? It does, although not in the way that we’re now told. For complacent liberals, the fact that Rishi Sunak is in Number 10 is evidence that racism is on the retreat and with a bit more education and good examples it will be eradicated.

That’s a lie. Sunak’s advancement is the result of decades of struggle that have broken aspects of a racist system. He benefits from the sort of battles that his party, and he himself, would denounce as militant and extreme. Sunak’s family migrated to Britain during the 1960s.

This was a time when the National Front ran riot terrorising people and Tory Enoch Powell made his “rivers of blood” speech to demonise migrants. In the 1970s, Margaret Thatcher, one of Sunak’s heroes, said Britain was being “swamped” by people like Sunak’s family.

So, Sunak—a Hindu—walking into Downing Street on Diwali is an important moment. He will have faced racism—and had to work twice as hard to overcome bigotry.  The Tory party incubates people who will hate Sunak’s rise.

In the 1980s a black or Asian prime minister seemed out of the question. It was fairly openly a white persons’ system with whites at the top. Confronting that and breaking it down is significant. But it doesn’t change the fact that Sunak will act in the interests of the rich. For the vast majority of non-white people, that means still being left behind.

Asians in Britain are twice as likely to be in low-income households as whites. Sunak’s austerity plans will hit them hard. The joint £730 million fortune for Sunak and his wife put him in another world.  The Tories and their business backers who bask in their support for “diversity” are the same ones who hold down pay, deny institutional racism exists and maintain a system of discrimination and scapegoating.

They allow only a narrow group of Asian and black people to rise who have accepted the system and will champion the ruling class. But Sunak becoming prime minister raises sharp questions for the Labour Party. The Tories have now had three women prime ministers and now a black person. 

The Labour Party has never had a woman or black person as leader—except on a temporary basis—let alone prime minister. Of the key positions in Keir Starmer’s shadow cabinet, just one is filled by a minority ethnic MP—and his previous cabinets haven’t been much better.

The party that relies heavily on non-white voters has failed to deliver or represent those people effectively as workers but it also hasn’t allowed them to the front. A racist Tory party doesn’t change because Sunak is prime minster. We need to redouble the class fight against racism, poverty and capitalism.

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