Former Chancellor Rishi Sunak said on Sunday that racism is not a factor in the Conservative Party membership's decision to vote for the next party leader and successor of Boris Johnson as British Prime Minister.
The finalist in the race to 10 Downing Street who is trailing his opponent, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, in surveys during the leadership election campaign set to conclude on September 5, dismissed factors such as gender or ethnicity would play a part in Tory members’ postal ballots from next week. It followed an Indian-origin businessman and Conservative Party donor, Lord Rami Ranger, saying in a video last week that Britain would be seen as racist if Sunak goes on to lose the Tory leadership election.
"I absolutely don't think that's a factor in anyone's decision. I just don't think that's right,” Sunak told ‘The Daily Telegraph’ in an interview.
"I was selected as a member of Parliament in Richmond… Our members rightly put merit above everything else. I'm sure when they are considering this question, they are just figuring out who is the best person to be Prime Minister... Gender, ethnicity and everything else will have nothing to do with it," said the Tory MP for Richmond, Yorkshire.
The 42-year-old British Indian politician acknowledges "playing catch-up" to Liz Truss in the race as he continues his campaign tour of the UK to win over Conservative Party members’ votes.
"It wasn't that long ago, the commentary was that I wouldn't even have been a part of this contest," he pointed out, a reference to the attacks on his wife Akshata Murty’s tax status on her Infosys shares.
"I think I can build a country where the defining characteristics of our society are hard work and aspiration and hope, a society where a world-class education is the birth right of every child, a society where we lead the world and standards of decency and integrity, and a society where we're really proud of our history and our traditions, but we're really confident about our future. You don't hear as much about that because everyone wants to focus on a very narrow conversation," he said, alluding to his disappointment at tax cuts being the dominant issue in the race.
As part of his reform plans for the state-funded National Health Service (NHS) if elected Prime Minister, Sunak has said that he would impose a temporary GBP 10 fine for patients who fail to attend a general practitioner (GP) or outpatient appointment without providing sufficient notice to allow the surgery or hospital to offer the slot to another patient.
The first time a patient misses an appointment, they will be given "the benefit of the doubt", but subsequent missed appointments will incur charges of GBP 10 each time.
"We're already paying for appointments. If they're not being used, then that's a waste. So if we can change that, then we basically get more out of the money that we're putting in today. It's a good example of a Conservative approach to that problem," he told the newspaper.
During interactions with Tory members on the campaign trail, he was urged by supporters not to give up even though he is the “underdog” in the race.
"I'm fighting for the values I believe in. I'm fighting for the things that I think are right for our country. And I'm not going to stop," he reassured one supporter.
(With PTI inputs)