Review: What Britain’s first Asian Prime Minister means to my family

Editor’s note: Sunder Katwala He is the director of Future Britain, an independent, non-partisan think tank. He was previously general secretary of the Fabian Society think tank and lead writer and online editor of the Observer newspaper. Sunder was born in Doncaster, Yorkshire, to parents who came to Britain from India and Ireland to work in the NHS. The opinions expressed in this comment are his own. Read more reviews on CNN.


Rishi Sunak’s tenure as Prime Minister is an important moment in British social history, but it is somehow curiously underrated.

In her first speech at 10 Downing Street, the new prime minister said she would get to work fixing the economic mistakes of her predecessor Liz Truss and restoring confidence in politics. He made no reference to being the British Prime Minister of Asia, or the post-war Prime Minister of ethnic minorities.

Well, among the wider public and particularly the white British population, in the face of the prime minister’s ethnicity or faith being too lenient, if we want fair opportunities for all. However, it would be remiss not to recognize a powerful symbol of Britain’s changing attitude to diversity.

Next year, the coronation of King Charles III coincides with the 75th anniversary of the arrival of the Windrush in 1948, a ship that has come to symbolize the ‘moment of origin’ for migration to post-war Commonwealth Britain and the birth of our modern. multi-ethnic and multi-faith society.

Sunak’s tenure as Prime Minister will tell an important story of how Britain has changed over three generations. However, each of these different generations may have a different view of the importance of their prime ministership. That is what I have found reflected in my family.

My father considers it a tremendous mark of social progress in Britain in his lifetime. Father came to England from India in 1968. After completing his medical training, he came to England to work as a doctor in the National Health Service. It was just a week after Enoch Powell made the infamous ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech that would reverberate for decades.

Powell tried to convince my father and the hundreds of thousands of Indian and Commonwealth migrants who had come to Britain that they should return home.

Powell’s main fear was that the birth of their children in Britain – people like me or the Suns – would make a multi-ethnic Britain inevitable. For Powell, this was the death of the idea of ​​the nation.

To my father, Sunak as prime minister is important because he is the ultimate proof that Powell was wrong.

Born in 1980, Sunak, like me, is part of the first generation of British ethnic minorities. If the generation before us who migrated to Britain had sometimes talked about ‘keeping a suitcase full just in case’, we knew we had a British background.

And many of us benefited from wider opportunities in Britain, just as our parents had hoped.

Like Sunak, I was born in a country where there were still no black or Asian MPs. When I left In the mid-1990s, there had still never been a single Black or Asian Cabinet minister.

If you had asked then, I would have said that we should expect to see that change. I could easily imagine a Black British Education Secretary, an Asian Home Secretary, maybe an opposition leader. But a prime minister? I would hope so, but that seems very far-fetched.

Only in the last five years, after a series of ethnic minority Chancellors and Home Secretaries, it became clear that a British Prime Minister in Asia was only a matter of time.

It surprises many people to hear that no British Asian served in the cabinet until 2010, when David Cameron appointed Sayeeda Warsi to the party chair from the (unelected) House of Lords. Britain’s first elected Asian MP was Sajid Javid, who served in the Cabinet until 2014, so a bid for the party leadership was unthinkable before then.

However, my children see this completely differently. They were shocked to hear last week that there had never yet been a British Asian prime minister. They asked what took us so long, when Barack Obama became the first American president in their lifetime.

Young British people of Asian and black descent born in this century are also less likely to see Sunak’s first post as a celebration. Their question is why the promise of equal opportunity has not yet been fully fulfilled.

That’s why most young people – Black, White and Asian – supported the 2020 anti-racism protests. They may be outraged to hear accounts of celebration, which suggest that it may be appreciable that they are not faced with the level of racist violence and overt discrimination that their grandparents experience. face to face.

Many will want to know what Sunak will do with those who did not have the educational privileges he had.

My father and I are right that Britain has come a long way. But I see the skepticism of the next generation as a positive sign of integration.

Perhaps the most important part of our progress was seeing expectations grow even faster. Our new prime minister has benefited from past progress. I hope that it can answer the challenge of the next generation as to what else we need to change in order to continue the unfinished path towards equal opportunity.