The UK Conservative Party leadership race, now in its final stretch, would at first thought seem to have little to do with South Africa.

But what is of immense relevance to us is that the candidates in the leadership race have been diverse in ethnicity and gender, probably the greatest diversity of candidates in these terms in any party leadership competition in the UK to date. And it is not clear that proactive measures to ensure this diversity were the sole factor or indeed a critical factor in bringing this about.

The race was the result of Boris Johnson’s forced resignation earlier this month. After five rounds of voting by Members of Parliament (MPs), there are now two candidates for party members to choose from until voting ends in early September.

There were eight candidates on the first-round ballot. This was made up of two white men, two white women, two men of Asian origin, one woman of Asian origin, and one black woman. And there will be no white males on the ballot in the final vote. Back in 2005 when David Cameron was elected as leader of the Conservative Party the entire field was made up of white men.

Pro-active policy

The diversity was partially achieved through a pro-active policy in selecting candidates, who in the UK are from ethnic minorities. But a better process aimed at selecting candidates who could win and perform played a highly significant role. And there has also been an organic evolution due to changing social attitudes. It is also the case that the Conservative Party’s message of hard work and self-help is one that tends to appeal to immigrants, who are often from groups that are ethnic minorities in the country.

In South Africa ensuring diversity through law and formal agreement on jobs and ownership along the lines of the ethnic make-up of the population has been a central goal of ANC policy. The Conservative Party did not have a specific numerical goal for ethnic minorities in Parliament, although they have actively shortlisted candidates from the country’s minorities and did lay down that women should hold 30 percent of seats.

How did this move to diversity in what once was a stodgy party come about?

Soon after he was elected party leader in 2005, David Cameron introduced a selection system under which ethnic minorities were shortlisted to stand in constituencies where the Party had a solid majority. That helped, but it was far from all.

What really helped was the competency-based system brought in by party leader Iain Duncan Smith in the early 2000s. Above all this sought to determine if a person was a real Conservative, had good judgement, and to determine if the applicant would be a good MP. Under the process no CVs or background information could be submitted. To ensure a diversity of applicants, there was active recruitment and mentoring to increase the numbers applying to be candidates.


Arguably, the improved methods for selecting candidates might have been the biggest factor in encouraging diversity, although Cameron claims what he did was critical in bringing about today’s diversity.

Pro-actively selecting ethnic minorities in certain constituencies could create a larger pool from which to achieve diversity in a Cabinet but does not guarantee that this will happen. The opposition Labour Party, which has long prided itself as diverse and has more MPs from minority backgrounds, does not come close to the diversity of the Conservative Party at the top.

Johnson’s cabinet had its diversity to its credit, but little more in terms of achievement. Most of the candidates are former Johnson cabinet members. proving, as comedian Leo Kearse says, “that ethnicity is no barrier to forming a terrible government.”

The final fight is between Rishi Sunak, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer – equivalent to the Minister of Finance – and Liz Truss – the present Foreign Secretary – equivalent to Minister of Foreign Affairs. Sunak’s parents were people of Asian origin who were kicked out of Uganda in the 1960s while Truss is a white woman. In the polls Truss is ahead, in part because she wants tax cuts, whereas Sunak believes these are currently unaffordable.

Sunak has attacked Truss, who once favoured Britain remaining in the European Union, as being soft on immigration. One Truss ally is quoted by the Financial Times as saying that Sunak should go back to being himself, “a totally boring failed economist”.

No dog whistles

In this vicious fight that make up a Conservative leadership battle there have been no dog whistles about race.

As Kearse points out the Conservatives are now beating the activists who push race as society’s core issue at their own game without even trying. That is proving immensely annoying for some activists.

Former leadership candidate, Kemi Badenoch, a former software engineer and banker, whose parents came from Nigeria seems to draw particular ire.

On Twitter, activist Dr. Shola Mos-Shogbamimu slammed Badenoch: “Her power grabbing ambition is rooted in discrediting and delegitimizing anti-racism efforts, denying systemic racism, whitewashing the British Empire racism, and enabling White Supremacy against Black people. She can crawl back into her mother”.

But Badenoch is the one to watch say a number of conservative commentators. They see Truss losing the next general election that must be held before January 2025 because they believe she comes across as wooden and lacking charisma. Should the party lose at the next general election it will have a leadership race and Badenoch would be a frontrunner, these commentators say.

That’s because she enjoys a political fight, is on the political right, upholds Conservative values, does not believe in gender neutrality, and holds that there should be no going back on Brexit, and rejects critical race theory.

Pity for Britain if she does become Prime Minister. Her views on Brexit are appalling.

The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR

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Jonathan Katzenellenbogen is a Johannesburg-based freelance financial journalist. His articles have appeared on DefenceWeb, Politicsweb, as well as in a number of overseas publications. Jonathan has also worked on Business Day and as a TV and radio reporter and newsreader.