Rishi Sunak: the UK's first South Asian Prime Minister


We are living in historic times in so many ways. But today the Runnymede Trust joins the entire country in recognising the appointment of Rishi Sunak as the United Kingdom’s first South Asian, and second ethnic minority, Prime Minister. Policies and political turmoil aside, it is a poignant and symbolic moment for a grandchild of the British Empire to accede to the highest office in the land. A Hindu Prime Minister appointed on Diwali, no less.

Having attended one of the country’s most elite schools, and sitting on enormous personal wealth, Mr Sunak has enjoyed considerable advantages in his life. As the nation continues to face generation-defining challenges, and struggles to attain those promised sunlit uplands, we trust that the new Prime Minister will strive to create fairness of opportunity so that every child in this country is capable of defining their own success, regardless of their background or circumstances. 

It is a dissapointing reality that, in socio-economic terms, the vast majority of those ethnic minority Cabinet members who have dominated the news headlines these past few months are themselves among the most privileged people in the country – a minority within a minority. All political parties can and must do more to promote openness and representation, both within their leadership as well as their membership. In this regard we note for instance, and with regret, the pushback Mr Sunak has faced among some grassroots Conservative Party members as a result of his ethnicity, and the fact that the majority of the 20 percent of Labour MPs who define themselves as of an ethnic minority background are not represented on the party’s front benches. 

We trust that Mr Sunak will listen to the British people and define his premiership with policies that support the public through one of the toughest periods of national crisis and political turmoil since the fifties. We are thinking of our public sector workers, the vast and growing proportion of people facing in-work poverty, and those spiralling into deep poverty and destitution, and we hope the new Prime Minister is too. 

We therefore urge Mr Sunak to increase benefits in line with inflation for those struggling to make ends meet and those experiencing in-work poverty. We ask that the public sector be protected from further squeezes, and we trust that urgent action will be taken to stabilise the markets so that mortgage and rent spikes can be managed, whether to protect ethnic minority communities and other traditionally vulnerable groups, or the increasing number of working middle-class Britons who now face impending hardship with anxiety and fear.

More broadly, we need a Prime Minister who will secure fair and urgent opportunities for the British people, and who will introduce policies spanning issues as diverse as the economy and migration in a manner that represents both the will of the majority and the compassionate norms of society. It’s time to put to bed the era of dog-whistle politics and a legislative agenda that has so harmed ethnic minority communities across the country, and instead commit to tackling all forms of discrimination including structural racism.

As the UK’s leading race equality think tank, the Runnymede Trust welcomes Mr Sunak to his new office, and remains ready to engage and support the new Prime Minister and his government in the continued effort to reduce disparities across society.

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