For years, Britain’s Conservative Party was seen mainly as the realm of white men from elite backgrounds. But the contenders to replace Boris Johnson as prime minister reflect the growing diversity at the top of the party’s ranks.
Among those expected to vie for the leadership position are a son of Indian immigrants, an Iraqi refugee, a number of women and a son of a Pakistani bus driver.
This is not an accident. It is largely a result of efforts by the party in recent years to put forward more diverse candidates for Parliament, helping build a broader bench of leaders. Mr. Johnson’s government was already indicative of the shift; Mr. Johnson, himself a white man from an elite background, appointed a cabinet that has included a number of women and has been Britain’s most ethnically diverse,
The changes are part of a wider push for representation in public office and in workplaces across Britain, some of which came on the heels of the Equality Act of 2010. But political parties are responsible for ensuring better representation among their own candidates, and though critics say the Tories still have a long way to go, the party has made efforts in recent years to bring in more diverse candidates.
One of the biggest steps was when David Cameron, then the Conservative Party’s leader, introduced the A-list, a system that he promoted as a way to include more women and people from Black, Asian and other minority backgrounds in the government.
In the 2005 election, Mr. Cameron promised to transform the identity of the Conservative Party by bringing in candidates from outside the traditional party pipeline. His initiative whittled down the list of Conservative candidates for Parliament to include an equal number of men and women and a significant proportion of people from minority backgrounds, and required that local party branches put one of these preferred candidates forward for winnable seats.
Last year, the party again overhauled its candidate selection process in an effort to increase diversity further.
Critics say the Conservatives have not done enough to reflect the society they represent and to root out racism, pointing to issues including Mr. Johnson’s own history of racist remarks and allegations of widespread misogyny within the party and Parliament at large. Some also note that many of the new leaders of the party, although ethnically diverse, still represent the wealthiest strata of society.
In the last general election in 2019, 31 percent of the Conservative Party members elected were women, and 12 percent came from Black or other minority backgrounds. In total, some 65 people in the House of Commons are from ethnic minority backgrounds.
Of those, 41 are Labour Party members and 22 are Conservatives.
The 22 include some of the most powerful Conservatives, among them six cabinet ministers under Mr. Johnson: Rishi Sunak, the recently departed chancellor of the Exchequer; Priti Patel, the home secretary; Alok Sharma, the president for COP26; Kwasi Kwarteng, the secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy; Sajid Javid, the recently departed health secretary; and Nadhim Zahawi, the current chancellor of the Exchequer.
Suella Braverman, the attorney general, who advises the cabinet, is also from an ethnic minority background and has said she is interested in succeeding Mr. Johnson.