Rishi Sunak's first statement after being named as next PM
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A Labour MP has deleted a tweet after stating that Rishi Sunak’s ascension as Prime Minister following the resignation of Liz Truss “isn’t a win” for Asian representation. Nadia Whittome, who is also of Indian heritage, said: “Black, white or Asian: if you work for a living, he is not on your side.”
The tweet sparked criticism over the suggestion that his wealth was somehow linked to his ability to represent his ethnicity.
Rishi Sunak was named as the next Conservative Party leader earlier today, after the only other candidate to declare in the contest, Penny Mordaunt, withdrew due to a lack of support.
The former Chancellor had been headed for a face-off with Boris Johnson – who was Prime Minister less than two months ago – before the latter announced he had decided not to enter the race, despite reaching the threshold of 100 MPs’ support.
Mr Sunak, who will be the third Prime Minister in a year to enter Downing Street, now faces leading a country in economic turmoil, facing rising energy costs and a crippling cost of living crisis, as well as the war in Ukraine.
He will become Britain’s first premier of colour after he meets King Charles tomorrow morning to ask to form a new Government.
However, when he ran in the Tory leadership campaign in the summer – being bested by Ms Truss in a poll of members – his wealth and his wife’s tax status came under intense scrutiny. Akshata Murty said earlier this year she would pay taxes in the UK on her overseas income.
Some British Indian supporters of the Conservatives were also celebrating his rise. Ravi Kumar, a party member from Nottingham – the city of Ms Whittome’s birth – called it a “watershed moment”.
In a since-deleted tweet, Ms Whittome said: “Rishi Sunak as Prime Minister isn’t a win for Asia [sic] representation.
“He’s a multi-millionaire who, as Chancellor, cut taxes on bank profits while overseeing the biggest drop in living standards since 1956.
“Black, white or Asian: if you work for a living, he is not on your side.”
In other tweets that remain, the Labour MP for Nottingham East – who was elected to the House of Commons in 2019 – pointed to Mr Sunak’s estimated £730million wealth and that he was elected only by Tory MPs, instead of a membership vote or general election.
Reacting to the now-erased comments, Sangita Myska, a radio presenter of Indian and African heritage, said Ms Whittome did not speak for her, adding: “Directly linking his wealth to his Asian background and representation is not, in my opinion, necessary.”
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Labour and other opposition parties have been calling for a general election since Ms Truss announced her resignation just 44 days into her premiership last week.
Political analysts have noted that Britain’s parliamentary system elects Governments, not leaders, however many believe a Prime Minister must have a mandate from the electorate to govern.
Mr Sunak is a practicing Hindu and takes his Commons oath on the Bhagavad Gita, a sacred Sanskrit text.
The son of a pharmacist and a doctor of Punjabi descent, his grandparents were born in India before emigrating to Britain from Africa in the 1960s.
Sunder Katwala, director of British Future, said: “Rishi Sunak becoming the first British Indian Prime Minister is a historic moment. This simply would not have been possible even a decade or two ago.
“It shows that public service in the highest office in Britain can be open to those of all faiths and ethnic backgrounds.
“This will be a source of pride to many British Asians – including many who do not share Rishi Sunak’s Conservative politics.”
Meanwhile, Narendra Modi, the Indian Prime Minister, said Mr Sunak was a bridge between the two countries, noting the fact that he had been named leader on Diwali, the Hindu festival of light.
He said he looked forward to “working closely together on global issues”, adding: “Special Diwali wishes to the ‘living bridge’ of UK Indians, as we transform our historic ties into a modern partnership.”
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