THE UK is undergoing a campaign among Conservative Party members to choose a leader who will replace the outgoing Boris Johnson as Prime Minister. (Note that in the UK and several other democratic countries, unlike in Guyana, party members choose their leader, not a small group of pre-selected delegates). Last February, I penned a letter in the local press that Prime Minister Boris Johnson will be forced to resign over Borisgate or partygate (partying during COVID and other indiscretions). I also stated that Chancellor of the Exchequer (Minister of Finance) Rishi Sunak would be the front runner to succeed him, but that the Conservatives (Tories) would reject him because of his non-Anglo Saxon, non-Protestant background. The above analysis has turned out to be factual.
Johnson was forced to resign in July after several members of his Cabinet, including Sunak, resigned and others as well as several Members of Parliament from his Conservative Party urged him to step down over Borisgate. Johnson should have followed the precedent of Margaret Thatcher and resigned after he barely won the no-confidence motion among party MPs; 148 voted against him. Sunak was the first to resign, triggering a floodgate among colleagues and calling on Johnson to step down. Sunak had defeated all potential successors for leadership of the Conservative Party till now, in several “knock out voting’ among MPs that have narrowed down the choice to two – Rishi Sunak and Foreign Secretary Lizz Truss. The party members now will choose the leader who will become PM.
Sunak, an Oxford and Stanford-educated economist, has consistently been among the most likeable and popular member of Johnson’s Cabinet. He was the most popular among all Chancellors. He has performed credibly as a finance expert since appointed by Johnson who led the party to victory with a whopping 359 seats. Sunak has been leading in the opinion polls among MPs for leadership, but trailing among party members. The final ballot will take place later this month among 180K party members. Ms Truss leads almost two to one in opinion polls of how the membership will vote. Nationally, among all British voters, Sunak is more popular than Truss. Party members choose the leader and by extension the PM. Sunak is preferred among the national population with 60 per cent, giving him a positive rating; 48 per cent give Truss a favourable rating. Polls suggest that Sunak can take the incumbent Conservative to victory in snap elections. Truss cannot, and is likely to go down to defeat to Labour which currently leads in opinion polls. Whoever becomes PM replacing Johnson is likely to call early elections, although elections are not due until the end of 2024; that has been the tradition in UK democratic politics.
The press and social media reported that several Tory (Conservative) party members stated that they cannot bring themselves to vote for a brown person as leader of the Conservatives and as UK Prime Minister. Sunak was born in 1980 in Southampton, England, to Indian Hindu parents. He is a practising Hindu. Ethnic prejudice runs high in the UK and influences voting not dissimilar to Guyana. One Conservative member was filmed on social media saying Sunak is Indian, not British. Clearly, for that particular opponent of Sunak, and there are many more like him in the UK. Birth in the UK does not confer citizenship or Britishness or the right to become PM.
Sunak also faces another ethnic problem in the UK, tied to the Muslim-Hindu divide in the UK brought over from the Hindu-Muslim divide in British India. I visited England many times to conduct research among the Indian diaspora. The division between Hindus and Muslims (especially those from Pakistan) is extremely sharp; there are rare social interactions. Indian Guyanese Muslims, Hindus, and Christians don’t exhibit such sharp animosity or tension. They get along well, patronising each other’s social events or religious functions such as Koran Shariefs and Jhandis or Pujas or Christian service at house warmings.
There are not many Conservative Party members who are of Islamic background; Muslims generally tend to back Labour, not dissimilar from the US where Muslims lean Democratic. But key Islamic MPs of the UK Conservative Party are backing Truss. The well-known Sajid Javid, for example, of Pakistani origin, who served as Home Secretary, Health Secretary, and Chancellor of the Exchequer, has endorsed Truss. Javid, who reigned from Johnson’s cabinet, is likely to get a Cabinet berth under Truss.
Another political tailwind facing Sunak is, outgoing Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been leading the campaign against him. Johnson has felt betrayed that Sunak led the revolt against him and wants to guarantee his defeat. Truss stuck it out with Johnson remaining Foreign Secretary and loyal to Johnson, unlike Sunak, who resigned as a matter of principle on the issue of political morality.
Sunak and Truss have been appearing at party gatherings organised all over the UK and being questioned by members who have the final say on who will be leader in a nationwide vote on a fixed date. There are no joint appearances or debates as in an election debate in the US. Both potential leaders appear separately in halls addressing audiences at scheduled times and are quizzed by members on policies. They go head to head on taking UK forward.
Analysts say Sunak has been bettering Truss in presentations and arguments. The odds are in favour of Truss winning, although Sunak has lessened the 24-point gap from two weeks ago. It will take a miracle for him to triumph in this contest that is replete with bigoted prejudice.