OPINION: The Tory leadership election, diversity, and why I back Kemi

Kemi Badenoch, MP for Saffron Walden - which includes Great Dunmow and Stansted, has launched a bid to become Tory leader

Kemi Badenoch, MP for Saffron Walden - which includes Great Dunmow and Stansted, has launched a bid to become leader of the Conservative Party - Credit: UK Parliament

This week we have seen some big developments in Parliament as the Conservative party chooses its next leader.

This is a historic and important event in Westminster which I am honoured to be participating in, and I have been thinking about the qualities my constituents would want in a future Prime Minister.

After much consideration, I believe Kemi Badenoch has these qualities. She is quite remarkable as a candidate: a young female MP of Nigerian descent with an impressive, straight-talking manner.

Besides the obvious importance of choosing the next leader of the party, this leadership election is also significant in what it says about diversity in the Conservative party. It is the most diverse leadership contest in modern British history. 

I think the list of candidates for the leadership that we had at the beginning of the week tells us something about the modern Conservative party. It’s a party in which individuals with talent can rise to the very top, regardless of their background.

It’s a party where the list of individuals vying for top office is incredibly diverse – not through intentional selection, female or ethnic minority shortlists, but through pure meritocracy. This is something I am quite proud to be a part of and pleased to see. 

Of the 10 initial candidates, six are from ethnic minority backgrounds and four are women. Given this diversity of candidates for Conservative party leadership, there seems to be an overwhelming likelihood that the next Prime Minister will be from an ethnic minority background or a woman, or potentially both.

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Having Britain’s first female ethnic minority background Prime Minister is something I would be incredibly proud of and it would be a significant moment in history, but most importantly of all it would have come about entirely naturally and based on the competence of the candidate. 

I’m not interested in tokenism when it comes to putting individuals in positions of power: these important offices must be earned, and I am pleased to see that in our party meritocracy and recognising talent has won out.

There are some very competent and talented individuals standing as candidates for party leader, and it just so happens that they are also an incredibly diverse group too. I have always been guided by who I think the strongest candidate is, and will always be deciding purely on merit. 

While the Labour party preach diversity and champion inclusivity training, it seems they really struggle to deliver even within their own party. Looking at the historic leaders of the Labour party, they all look the same: white men.

It’s quite ironic that the Conservatives often come under heavy fire for not championing enough diversity when you look at the composition of the leadership of each party. 

The Conservative party have a history of firsts when it comes to leadership. The first ever ethnic minority Prime Minister was Benjamin Disraeli in the 19th century, the first and only Jewish Prime Minister we have had. The Conservative party has also supported the only two female Prime Ministers: Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May.

Now, we potentially have the third as well, with candidates like Penny Mordaunt and Liz Truss as well as candidates from ethnic minority backgrounds, Suella Braverman and Kemi Badenoch. 

Looking at the candidate pool, we see a real diversity of talent and background. From Nadhim Zahawi, who came to the UK as a refugee speaking no English and is now the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to the British-Pakistani Sajid Javid. The message is clear: given the tools to succeed, talent can come from any and every background. 

The Labour party is a party of all-women shortlists and positive discrimination and but where has this got them?

Through choosing candidates on merit and without discrimination, the Conservative party has drawn leadership candidates from a diverse pool of talent. This is purely based on the strengths of the candidates.

One of the most capable and stand-out candidates in the list, in my opinion, has been Kemi Badenoch. Though hardly a household name when she put herself forwards for the contest, Kemi has a strong and honest character, direct manner, and no-nonsense approach. I respect her a lot as a colleague and as a MP and I think she would be great in the top office given the opportunity. 

I have backed Kemi since the beginning of the leadership contest for a few reasons. Firstly, I think she is genuinely courageous. Her delivery at the dispatch box is powerful. She speaks her mind, which is refreshing. She is passionate and patriotic, and I think she can excite and inspire the nation. 

I personally think we need a fresh face for leadership and Kemi is just that. While the fact she hasn’t been in the cabinet has been raised by detractors, I actually think this is a good thing. It means she has her own vision and way forward. She isn’t making big promises which can’t be delivered, and she is being honest about the challenges we face, like inflation, as well how she plans to stimulate economic growth better in future. 

I also think that Kemi would tear Keir Starmer apart at the dispatch box. Frankly I don’t know how the leader of the Labour party would handle her style at all, but I think it is safe to say that she would hold her own. 

Writing this on Thursday morning, I know that Kemi has successfully made it through the first round of votes by colleagues and will face further rounds in the coming days. However, regardless of the outcome by the end of this week, I am proud to have backed her throughout this campaign.

She has done incredibly well already to go from a standing start to having the backing of 40 MPs, and it is clear that the more people find out about Kemi the more they seem to like her. 

I think this leadership election has demonstrated a lot about the modern Conservative party, and from what I can see it’s very positive.

The diversity in the talented list of candidates to be Prime Minister is very positive, and all the more so because it has come from pure meritocracy rather than short-lists and positive discrimination. For all the Labour party like to shout about their diversity and inclusivity, actions speak louder than words here. 

- Tom Hunt is the Conservative MP for Ipswich