In the United Kingdom Rishi Sunak missed out on the chance of becoming UK’s first Indian-origin Prime Minister, but Goan-origin Suella Braverman walked off with the prized Home portfolio in a cabinet led by Liz Truss, who won the leadership stakes overwhelmingly.
During a week when the drug trade dominated the headlines in the Goan papers, this bit of British politics on the front pages, with a Goa angle thrown in, brought some respite from otherwise rather repetitive news reports.
The Home Secretary’s post to Braverman came as no surprise as a week before it could happen, there was speculation of this as polls showed that Truss had been leading in the vote for Conservative party leadership.
Braverman, nee Fernandes, was first elected to the House of Commons in 2015 from Fareham, a constituency she continues to represent, seeing a quick rise in her political career. Within five years of being in the House, she displayed leadership and was appointed Attorney General by then PM Boris Johnson in February 2020.
A barrister, Braverman has earlier been Parliamentary Private Secretary to the ministers of the Treasury and then served in the government of Theresa May as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Exiting the European Union.
She, however, later quit the May government and sat on the backbenches during Johnson’s first term as PM, before being appointed Attorney General, a post that surprised many as she was relatively a junior in the party at that time.
Braverman in the current political crisis of the Conservative party played a shrewd political game when, despite holding the position of Attorney General in the government, she called on Johnson to resign from the Prime Ministership and then entered the leadership race. When she was eliminated in the second ballot, she endorsed the ultimate winner Truss, gaining favour and also the coveted position of Home Secretary.
The Goan community in the United Kingdom, however, did not show much enthusiasm over Braverman’s appointment, though this is the highest position that any MP of Goan origin has risen to in the United Kingdom. Other than Braverman, former Labour MP Keith Vaz had been Minister for Europe, Commonwealth and Foreign Office and had a long stint in the House of Commons representing Leicester East, till he retired in 2019.
Braverman is a hard Brexiteer, something that the Goans who have made the United Kingdom their home in recent years are not. She also stands on the right wing of the party, again a position that many Goans do not align with.
The Goan community, however, does play a large role politically in the United Kingdom. There are two other MPs of Goan origin in the House of Commons – Valerie Vaz of the Labour party who has been shadow leader of the House and Claire Coutinho a Conservative member. Vaz has been a member since 2010, while this is Coutinho’s first term.
It is also clear that the Indian diaspora in Britain is growing from strength to strength. There are 15 MPs of Indian heritage in the current British parliament, including the three Goan-origin ones. Johnson’s cabinet had two of these ministers in top ranks – Sunak as Chancellor of the Exchequer and Priti Patel as Home Secretary – and then Braverman as Attorney General.
While Braverman will stand in the limelight in the next two years, till the end of the current term of the House of Commons, Sunak who came close to occupying No 10 Downing Street will return to the backbenches of Parliament as he has not accepted any position in the new cabinet. Here he will have to bide his time, at least till December 2024 when Britain votes again. His only hope of making another leadership bid will be if the Conservatives lose power in that election.
Given that the party has a solid majority, a Labour victory does not appear possible at this moment, but there are still two years to go and much can happen. The challenges before Truss- Britain’s economic condition is not strong and Truss has what is being described as a ‘nightmare to-do list’.
Sunak didn’t make it, but he remains a strong force in the Conservative Party, especially since a majority of his party colleagues in the House of Commons had consistently voted for him, through all the five ballots that ultimately pitched him against Truss and brought in the wider Conservative party members to vote for a new leader. This the new Prime Minister cannot forget or overlook, for though she has gained the trust of the party ranks, a majority of her parliamentary colleagues had not endorsed her. In that, the party is divided and there is currently a strong contingent of leaders on the backbenches waiting for her to make a mistake.
Braverman may, therefore, have to play a bigger role than merely that of Home Secretary as she may need to rally the Conservative Members of Parliament behind Truss and the PM’s vision for the country.
A large majority does not necessarily signify a strong government in Britain as MPs do vote with their conscience.