By appointing the most ethnically diverse Cabinet in history, Boris Johnson has consigned the ‘Tebbit Test’ to history. He must now unleash the true potential of Britain’s diaspora communities, writes India Inc. Founder & CEO Manoj Ladwa.
A few weeks ago, we witnessed the greatest game of cricket in history. England beat New Zealand in a nail-biting finish to lift the World Cup. Throughout the tournament, India were the favourites, only to be beaten in the semi-finals by New Zealand. Had India got to the final, I – like the overwhelming majority of Britain’s 1.5 million Indian diaspora – would have loudly and proudly supported India in the final against England. And in doing so, dismally failing the infamous “cricket test”.
The cricket test, also known as the Tebbit Test, was a controversial phrase coined almost 30 years ago by the British Conservative politician, Norman Tebbit, in reference to the perceived lack of loyalty to the England cricket team among South Asian and Caribbean immigrants and their children. The suggestion being that immigrants and their children who did not support England were not sufficiently integrated into British society.
Fast forward to 2019. Boris Johnson, much to his credit, has appointed the most ethnically diverse Cabinet in history – Sajid Javid, the son of a Pakistani immigrant as Chancellor of the Exchequer; Priti Patel, the daughter of an Indian immigrant, as Home Secretary (two of the great offices of state); along with Alok Sharma as International Development Secretary; Rishi Sunak, Chief Secretary to the Treasury; and James Cleverly, the son of an immigrant nurse from Sierra Leone, as Conservative Party Chairman. Who would have thought?
Boris has in one full sweep consigned Tebbit to history.
It is a telling fact that none of these powerful British politicians, and I would include London Mayor Sadiq Khan in this list, have sought to hide their origins. As my friend, Lord Gadhia, very rightly put it: “I don’t have to prove my Britishness to anyone, neither can anyone deny my Indian-ness.”
From my own personal experiences, I know that they have used every possible opportunity not only to celebrate their heritage, but also to highlight opportunities for stronger business and strategic relations between the UK and the countries of their parents’ origin.
Tebbit defined the past. Johnson must now define the future. He has an opportunity to reframe and repurpose Britain’s identity in this New World, and in doing so define for itself and the World what Britain will and won’t stand for.
In doing so, he must quickly move from Churchillian rhetoric and use the multiple identities that diaspora communities possess to Britain’s fullest advantage. To build stronger and newer business and cultural links. To connect communities and regions. To nurture talent and technology. This is a real opportunity that a Brexit-bound Britain must now unleash. I call it the ‘Diaspora Dividend’.
I have for a long time argued that Brexit is as much about a state of mind as it is about an economic separation with the EU. This is the point that has for so much of the Brexit debate been missed out.
Unilateralism has long been dead. Multilateralism and its institutions as framed by the victorious powers of the Second World War is being tested more so than at any other time. But bilateralism is seeing a new resurgence.
In defining national identity, Britain has several stark choices before it. For instance, will it back democracies or will it seek to play the usual balancing act at the expense of democracies? The latter I believe is nothing but a downward spiral to irrelevance. Perhaps, India also needs to ask itself exactly the same questions as its global stature and responsibilities inevitably grow.
But the immediate conundrum for Johnson is that Brexit has been defined far too much as an anti-immigrant reaction. Yet Britain needs these very same ‘immigrants’ now more than ever before to help shape a vision and build a new, open, and Global Britain.
Lastly, to go back to the epic cricket match – yes, I did (quite seemlessly) switch my sporting loyalties from India to support England in the final!