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UK prime minister Rishi Sunak departs 10 Downing Street for his first prime minister’s questions in London on October 26. Photo: Bloomberg

LettersWith Rishi Sunak as prime minister, the UK is once again leading by example on diversity

  • Readers discuss celebrations over Britain’s first prime minister of Indian descent, and the challenges he faces on many fronts
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Many people outside the United Kingdom are deeming the appointment of Rishi Sunak as the new prime minister a moment of the magnitude of the election of Barack Obama as president of the United States. Some even go further trying to stoke division by pointing out the irony of Britain, which had once colonised India, now having a person of Indian descent taking up residence at 10 Downing Street.
Those people fail to recognise that British people couldn’t care less about the colour of the skin of their fellow citizens. That white politicians are still in the majority reflects the dominant ethnicity in the United Kingdom. However, Sadiq Khan, currently the mayor of London, from the Labour Party, is of Pakistani descent. Former prime minister Liz Truss of the Conservative Party appointed the most diverse cabinet ever. The top four most senior jobs in her government were not held by a white man: Kwasi Kwarteng was chancellor of the exchequer, Suella Braverman home secretary and James Cleverly foreign secretary.
Other prominent Tory politicians who have held senior government roles include Sajid Javid and Priti Patel. The latter curiously favoured very strict immigration policies, demonstrating that in the UK it is not your family origins that determine your beliefs.

When I studied in the UK, I could already see the diversity in the streets, with people from all walks of life coming to learn from an example of globalisation. Later, when I first started my internship there, having been educated elsewhere, I was yet again surprised to walk through the hallways of the office and see names of different origins on doors.

Brexit might have shown the selfish side and lack of vision of people in the UK, but they surely moved on from a preoccupation with race ages ago. Stable governance might not be the best lesson we can currently take from the UK, but when it comes to ethnic diversity and integration, they are miles ahead of everyone else as a successful example, especially and strangely when compared to the US, which is a country born of immigration. In any case, thank you once again Britain for leading by example in this regard.

Jose Alvares, Macau

Rishi Sunak has limited room to manoeuvre

Rishi Sunak definitely deserves the “best public speaker” award for British prime ministers if there is one. But even this most articulate British prime minister has to admit that the country has very limited options left to get anything done.
It is hard to indefinitely avoid a hard border with Northern Ireland. It is even harder to convince Nicola Sturgeon to postpone a second referendum on Scottish independence. A compassionate budget may not be able to please the British as the country’s foreign exchange reserves have dwindled after the giveaways during the Covid-19 lockdown. The 38-day chancellor of the exchequer, an academically brilliant Cambridge PhD holder, quickly lost his job after he unveiled a tax-cutting package.

While major political and economic issues have to be muddled through, some symbolic gestures may help to ease the pain. Sunak may not be able to help Scottish fishermen sell more lobsters to gourmet restaurants in France, but he can still try to get more orders for Scotch whisky from Greater China. People in his hometown Southampton are buying and selling second-hand clothes. Maybe some timely online shopping with vendors in India can help to reduce costs.

I am reminded of a famous Chinese proverb “a crafty rabbit has three burrows” which was coined during the Warring States period about 2,300 years ago. The proverb comes from an exchange between a statesman and his clever adviser, who helped the statesman come up with a few plans to fall back on.

Khaw Wei Kang, Macau