SPECIAL – Sunak Is No Obama – By Mihir Bose

Where the Sunak story also differs from Obama, and this is very significant, is that, unlike Obama, he has emerged from the right. It is an ace in the hands of the British Tories and they will play it ruthlessly when fighting Labour. It can point to the fact that it has prominent non-whites occupying high positions in the Cabinet, including three of the top jobs …. Writes Mihir Bose exclusively for London Daily

One of the things about race in this country is to always look at what happens in the US and link events here to those in the US. Some years ago, I applied for a job at London Weekend on a program they were going to have which would look at issues about race and immigration. The interview developed into an argument where the person interviewing me would not accept that the race situation in the US was totally  different to the one in the UK . He insisted on linking it reflecting the fact that this has a long history in this country, and something people, including prominent politicians, are constantly doing.

One of the events that shaped Enoch Powell’s infamous rivers of blood speech was what was happening in the US at that time with the civil rights agitation and how the racial situation had got inflamed. Powell’s speech in April 1968 was made weeks after Martin Luther King, the civil rights leader, was assassinated at a Memphis hotel.

I have always felt to draw comparisons between the two countries on the race issue is not very helpful, if anything likely to distort the whole situation. But once again it is happening with Rishi Sunak entering No 10 as Britain’s first non-white Prime Minister. The immediate response is this is Britain’s Barrack Obama moment. Nothing could be more absurd.

Obama’s election was white America’s attempt to pay back some of the dues it owes to the black community, which had accumulated for centuries, for its original sin of slavery. Not that such dues can be paid by a single black man entering the White House. And in any case there was a distortion here as Obama is only half black and his black ancestors were not slaves who had been brought to America in chains. His Kenyan father had migrated to America to study. But in the American story of race such an edited version of what had happened in history was necessary.    

Sunak’s story is a legacy of the British empire where attitudes to race was always very different. Not that the empire was not driven by the racial belief that white people were superior. It is worth noting that the British in their empire called themselves European. The institutions the British set up in India had the name European. The clubs that excluded Indians, as nearly all of them did, said they were for Europeans only. Even the cricket team was called European. Only people of pure European blood could be members of the team.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak arrives at No10 Downing Street. 10 Downing Street. Picture by Simon Walker/ No 10 Downing Street

But where Britain differed from America is, unlike America where the whites had a blanket ban on blacks, the British iron curtain on race could be opened on certain occasions allowing the browns and blacks to interact with whites. The best example of this provided in sport. The European team of pure blood did play cricket with the Indians. In America, in contrast, the blacks were not allowed to play major league baseball and had to form their own “Negro” leagues. It was only in 1947, the year India got independence, that the first black player, Jackie Robinson, played in major league baseball.

The King received The Rt Hon Rishi Sunak MP at Buckingham Palace today. His Majesty asked him to form a new Administration. Mr. Sunak accepted His Majesty’s offer and was appointed Prime Minister and First Lord of the Treasury.

Where the Sunak story also differs from Obama, and this is very significant, is that, unlike Obama, he has emerged from the right. It is an ace in the hands of the British Tories and they will play it ruthlessly when fighting Labour. It can point to the fact that it has prominent non-whites occupying high positions in the Cabinet, including three of the top jobs, and Sunak having been chancellor already, while Labour is still stuck in its white groove. Also, the Tories have had three women prime ministers, whereas Labour is yet to have anyone who looks likely to become Prime Minister.

And Sunak, unlike Obama, has made it clear that he sees looking at colonial history, and how it is represented, as “woke”. During his losing campaign against Liz Truss at one Conservative rally he said that, “I want to take on this lefty woke culture that seems to want to cancel our history, our values and our women.”

It is also worth stressing that, unlike Obama who was elected by the American people in a general election, Sunak has got into No 10 on the vote of the Tory MPs. He has always enjoyed support among the MPs, even when he fought against Truss, but when the Conservative members voted he lost quite easily, and his defeat was never in doubt. This suggests that, while in Westminster he has appeal, how he plays out  the country remains to be seen.

And this is where he poses a challenge for Labour. When the election comes Labour, as the party of the left, cannot play the race card, or at least not openly. Yet they may find that the fact that Sunak is not-white has mileage. How it will resolve this contradiction will be interesting.

I have always thought that the row over his wife having a non-dom tax status was not only because she is immensely rich but also because there was an undercurrent of racism that dare not speak its name, that of a brown woman taking advantage of this country’s tax laws.

And here again the distinction with America needs to be drawn.

Race is not the only factor in this story. So is class. Class in America is not an issue and what is more to be rich is not a matter of shame as the rise of Trump, who has broadcast how rich is, shows. In Britain there is no getting away from class. And the feeling that the rich should be distrusted because they have largely inherited their wealth is a view shared by many. And there is no question Sunak’s wife wealth is inherited from her immensely rich father.

Where Labour may profit is that Sunak’s biggest task is to unite the Conservative party. His cabinet shows that he considers this is first job with the choice of Suella Braverman as Home Secretary. She may have had to resign only days ago because of breaking the ministerial code but Sunak needs her because she is seen as the champion of the right and he cannot afford to alienate the right.

The fact is the Tory party in parliament has become like the Labour party of old, split into factions which hate each other. For decades Tory took advantage of such Labour splits to retain power. Now Sir Keir Starmer will have to try and profit from the Tory splits. How well Sunak can unite the party by the time election comes, and Starmer learns from how the Tories used the Labour splits to its advantage, could play a major part in the election. The common belief is parties that are divided do not win. Labour knows that to its cost. If Sunak cannot unite the party he may suffer the same fate as in the past Labour has done. Then the fact that he is brown will play no part.

(Mihir Bose’s latest book is Dreaming The Impossible, The Battle To Create a Non-Racial Sports World)   

READ MORE: Rishi’s Move To Reinstall Suella Triggers Chaos

[soliloquy id="31272"]
[soliloquy id="31269"]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *