On Tuesday of last week, Kemi Badenoch was eliminated from the United Kingdom’s Conservative Party leadership race after the fourth ballot. While Badenoch may be out of the contest, the signs point to an important future in British politics for the 42-year-old MP.
“I have no doubt that Kemi Badenoch will make a fine PM one day,” wrote commentator Daniel Hannan on Twitter.
Boris Johnson, prime minister and leader of the Conservative Party, resigned on July 7 following a scandal-ridden three years of leading the British government, triggering a leadership race.
Eight candidates, including Badenoch, were officially nominated to replace Johnson as both party leader and prime minister of the world’s fifth-largest economy. Of the eight candidates, four were women, and four were non-white. Kemi Badenoch herself was born Olukemi Olufunto Adegoke in London in 1980, to parents of Nigerian origin.
Although holding British citizenship at birth, Adegoke spent much of her childhood in Nigeria. She confessed to experiencing the effects of poverty while growing up due to the economic mismanagement of the Nigerian government. She would later spend part of her childhood in the United States before returning to the U.K. at age 16.
Adegoke would later take the surname Badenoch after marrying her husband.
First elected to the U.K. parliament in the 2017 general election, Badenoch also held a seat in the London Assembly from 2015 to 2017. Badenoch has called her journey to parliament as exemplifying the “British Dream”.
Badenoch certainly doesn’t espouse the moderate conservatism of former prime minister David Cameron, who led the Conservatives to power in 2010, before stepping down in 2016.
However, a Financial Times column partially credited the presence of Badenoch and the leadership race’s other non-white contenders to Cameron’s 2005 decision to select more women and non-white candidates to contest parliamentary seats.
“Yet perhaps more important is that they have provided a friendly home for ambitious minority politicians reluctant to present themselves as perpetual victims,” read the column.
“The rise of the very talented Kemi Badenoch is truly remarkable,” wrote historian Niall Ferguson on Twitter. “She would be a Tory Obama if she won this. The whole leadership contest is a disaster for the bogus narrative that Brexit was motivated by racism and/or nostalgia for Empire.”
An outspoken opponent of “wokeness,” Badenoch’s criticisms of Critical Race Theory in 2020 were described by The Guardian as “scathing,” with at-least one government race advisor confessing to having wept after hearing them.
Taking out a column in The Times on July 9 after entering the contest, Badenoch called for a “strong, but limited government,” while decrying identity politics as antithetical to British values.
“We cannot maintain a cohesive nation state with the zero-sum identity politics we see today,” wrote Badenoch.
In an op-ed published in The Sun on July 11, Badenoch promised to cut funding for “low quality” university degrees if she won the leadership and became PM.
“Sadly, some universities spend more time indoctrinating social attitudes instead of teaching lifelong skills or how to solve problems,” wrote Badenoch. “Why are we shovelling huge amounts of taxpayer money—currently up to £11 billion a year into student loans—that will never be paid back?”
The contest revealed just how popular Badenoch is among the party base. Member polls showed Badenoch would win a head-to-head contest against several other candidates among card-carrying members.
Badenoch lacked enough support among fellow MPs to stay in this particular leadership race, leading to her elimination on July 19. In Conservative leadership elections, only elected MPs can vote for candidates until all but two are eliminated. After that, voting opens up to the party’s general membership to determine the winner.
Rishi Sunak, former Chancellor of the Exchequer, is one of the two remaining candidates in the race. Born to parents of Indian origin, Sunak would become the first British prime minister from a minority background since Benjamin Disraeli, an ethnic Jew, governed the U.K. as a Conservative from 1874-1880.
The other remaining candidate is Liz Truss, who would become the U.K.’s third woman to become prime minister after Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May, both also hailing from the Conservative Party.
The diverse race has been heralded as a landmark in British politics, and a challenge for the Opposition Labour Party, who have long portrayed themselves as the champions of ethnic minorities in the U.K. The leadership is expected to conclude by September 5.
How a new leader will improve their fortunes remains to be seen, but it is nearly certain that Badenoch will be a name heard far more often going forward.