UK: Rise and rise of anti-woke crusader who could become Labour’s worst nightmare

UK: Rise and rise of anti-woke crusader who could become Labour’s worst nightmare. By Richard Kay.

She also possesses an ability — rare among her fellow MPs and ministers — of speaking plainly. She certainly couldn’t have been clearer when, in 2018, she declared that trans women were ‘men using women’s bathrooms’.

And she was understandably proud in her most recent job as Equalities Minister when she announced that all new public buildings would have separate male and female toilets.

This same direct — some might call it blunt — approach has been equally visible on issues of race, notably when she described the concept of white privilege as ‘stoking divisions’ and ‘marginalising the disadvantaged’.

In a challenge to the Left, she argued that the solution to making the country fairer did not lie in the rhetoric of ‘decolonise this, tear down that’.

Refreshingly, she bridles, too, against trendy thinking that likes to paint British history as a long saga of wickedness.

At the same time she has declared that any school that taught ‘elements of critical race theory as fact’, or which promotes partisan political views such as defunding the police without offering a balanced treatment of opposing views, ‘is breaking the law’.

Such unflinching confidence, of course, can sometimes come across as arrogance. But as one Westminster friend of Kemi says: ‘You can’t smell the ambition on her as you can with other people in politics.’

In terms of the current leadership contest this alone marks her as an outlier. She had no childhood dream of being a politician, let alone Prime Minister, nor has she demonstrated the kind of flexibility on doctrine that some candidates have adopted in order to chime in with what they think people want to hear.

But as Michael Gove, her boss in the Levelling Up department, says of her qualities: ‘She has zero tolerance of bull**** and she doesn’t want to ingratiate. I have rarely seen someone so on top of her brief.’

High praise, but then perhaps the key to the mother-of-three’s unexpected success lies in her upbringing, which was far from conventional. Although British-born, she was raised in Nigeria by African parents and the memories of those days have never left her.

‘I saw real poverty,’ she said. ‘Doing my homework by candlelight, because the state electricity board could not provide power; fetching water in heavy, rusty buckets from a borehole a mile away because the nationalised water company could not get water out of the taps. Unlike many born since 1980, I was unlucky enough to live under socialist policies. It is not something I would wish on anyone.’ …

After taking a degree in computer engineering at Sussex University she became a software engineer and systems analyst. She also worked as a secretary, maths tutor and shop assistant. Her political career began in 2015 when she was elected to the London Assembly. …

This then was her no-nonsense take on what being a Conservative means. ‘There is more to Conservatism than economic liberalism,’ she said, ‘there is respect for the rule of law, personal responsibility, freedom of speech and of association, and opportunity through meritocracy.’ …

She has done precious little wrong to disabuse supporters of that since. What they recognised then — and do now even more so as the curtain comes down on the Boris years — is that she would be immune to Labour’s class-based insults.

Indeed, she has been described as ‘Labour’s worst nightmare’.