How Kemi Badenoch has become the 'anti-woke' candidate for Tory party leader

How Kemi Badenoch has become the 'anti-woke' candidate for Tory party leader

From working in McDonald’s to the ‘anti-woke’ candidate for PM: How Kemi Badenoch, 42, who grew up ‘with no running water’ in Nigeria before moving to the UK has gone from private banker to Tory rising star

  • Kemi Badenoch, 42, has gone from outsider to contender in Tory leadership race
  • The MP for Saffron Walden grew up between London, Lagos and the US
  • Doctor’s daughter is a married mother-of-three known for her ‘anti-woke’ views 
  • She has the backing of Michael Gove who praised her ‘no-bulls***’ drive 

Tory leadership hopeful Kemi Badenoch has gone from race outsider to a serious contender with the backing of Michael Gove and a promise to be the ‘fresh face’ the party needs after chaos of Boris Johnson‘s premiership.

The MP for Saffron Walden, 42, who grew up in the UK, US and Nigeria, is known as a culture warrior with anti-‘woke’ views on issues including trans rights that make her a hit among right-leaning members of the party.

The former equalities minister threw her hat into the ring with a plan for a smaller state and a government ‘focused on the essentials’ and won the support of Mr Gove, who said the party needs a leader with ‘Kemi’s focus, intellect and no-bulls*** drive’.

It marks a massive boost in profile for Ms Badenoch, a mother-of-three former banker who has only been an MP for five years and remains unknown to most of the population. 

She admits her pro-Brexit views put her at odds with her husband Hamish, a Deutsche Bank banker and former Tory Councillor. The couple have three children – two sons and a daughter, who they keep out of the public eye.

Tory leadership hopeful Kemi Badenoch, pictured, threw her hat into the ring with a plan for a smaller state and a government ‘focused on the essentials’, saying she is the ‘fresh face’ the party needs. She has won the backing of Michael Gove who praised her ‘no bulls***’ approach

The married mother-of-three, pictured in the kitchen with one of her two daughters in 2017, grew up between Nigeria, the US and the UK and is known for her 'anti-woke' views

The married mother-of-three, pictured in the kitchen with one of her two daughters in 2017, grew up between Nigeria, the US and the UK and is known for her ‘anti-woke’ views 

Kemi, pictured with her husband Hamish and Theresa May, says Margaret Thatcher is her political hero. Despite starting as an outsider in the race, the former equalities minister has become a real contender

Kemi, pictured with her husband Hamish and Theresa May, says Margaret Thatcher is her political hero. Despite starting as an outsider in the race, the former equalities minister has become a real contender

After first announcing her candidacy in The Times, Ms Badenoch officially launched her campaign in a speech at the Policy Exchange think tank on Tuesday, pictured

After first announcing her candidacy in The Times, Ms Badenoch officially launched her campaign in a speech at the Policy Exchange think tank on Tuesday, pictured

Ms Badenoch was born in Wimbledon, south-west London after her Nigerian parents came to the UK so her mother, a professor of physiology, could receive medical treatment. 

She grew up in Lagos where her father worked as a GP, although they spent time in the US while her mother was lecturing. 

‘I come from a middle-class background but I grew up in a very poor place,’ she once said in an interview. ‘Being middle class in Nigeria still meant having no running water or electricity, sometimes taking your own chair to school.’

At 16, Ms Badenoch returned to London to realise her ‘dream’ of completing her studies in the UK and enrolled in a part-time A-Level course in Morden.

At the time Nigeria was in the midst of political chaos that impacted the economy. The family experienced poverty and Ms Badenoch’s father ‘scraped together’ enough money for a plane ticket and £100 for his daughter to start her new life.

To support herself, Ms Badenoch, who lived with a family friend, secured a part-time job at McDonald’s and picked up ad-hoc work elsewhere. 

Ms Badenoch was born in south-west London after her Nigerian parents came to the UK so her mother, a professor of physiology, could receive medical treatment. Pictured, Kemi Badenoch (second from left) with (l-r) her brother, Fola, Kemi, her sister Lola and mother, Feyi

Ms Badenoch was born in south-west London after her Nigerian parents came to the UK so her mother, a professor of physiology, could receive medical treatment. Pictured, Kemi Badenoch (second from left) with (l-r) her brother, Fola, Kemi, her sister Lola and mother, Feyi

She grew up in Lagos where her father worked as a GP, although they spent time in the US while her mother was lecturing. Pictured, Kemi, aged seven, with her grandfather in Nigeria

She grew up in Lagos where her father worked as a GP, although they spent time in the US while her mother was lecturing. Pictured, Kemi, aged seven, with her grandfather in Nigeria

‘Most of the students were from ethnic minorities and the expectations for us were low,’ she recalled in an interview with the Independent. ‘The poverty of low expectations must change. Schools and teachers matter.’

The future politician enrolled at the University of Sussex where she studied Computer Systems Engineering, graduating in 2003. 

This led to a job as a software engineer at Logica, followed by by a role as system analyst at Royal Bank of Scotland. She was later appointed as an associate director at private bank Coutts.

In 2009 she began a part-time law degree at Birbeck College and has also worked at the Spectator magazine. 

At 16, Ms Badenoch, pictured in 2017, returned to London to realise her 'dream' of completing her studies in the UK and enrolled in a part-time A-Level course in Morden

At 16, Ms Badenoch, pictured in 2017, returned to London to realise her ‘dream’ of completing her studies in the UK and enrolled in a part-time A-Level course in Morden

Ms Badenoch joined the Conservative party in 2005, aged 25, and says there were two ‘lightbulb moments’ that persuaded her to stand as an MP.    

The first was when she heard a speaker at the Hay Festival ‘claiming that ethnic minorities all suffer from institutional racism’.

Ms Badenoch joined the Conservative party in 2005, aged 25, and says there were two 'lightbulb moments' that persuaded her to stand as an MP. Pictured, in 2017

Ms Badenoch joined the Conservative party in 2005, aged 25, and says there were two ‘lightbulb moments’ that persuaded her to stand as an MP. Pictured, in 2017

She told the Independent: ‘The left and the liberal elite think they have a monopoly on the caring issues, whether it is diversity or refugees. 

‘Of course we have a moral obligation to help refugees but what is important – and more difficult to do – is to look at what works when they come; can they find work? Do they integrate? Do they take on British values?’

The second came during the Make Poverty History movement in 2005 when she was struck by the arrogance of ‘white men thinking they can save Africa’.  

‘This was the last straw for me. What has helped and is helping African countries is free trade and enterprise, not more aid and more virtue signalling,’ she continued. 

After unsuccessfully running for the seat of Dulwich and West Norwood in the 2010 election – a contest won by late Labour MP Tessa Jowell – Ms Badenoch was selected as the Conservative candidate for Saffron Walden, a safe seat for her party, in the 2017 election. 

She won and delivered her maiden speech in Parliament just a few weeks later. In it, she described herself as the ‘British dream,’ the African ‘immigrant who came to the UK aged 16 and who became a parliamentarian’ in one generation.

She also described the vote for Brexit as ‘the greatest ever vote of confidence in the project of the United Kingdom’ and hailed 

Ms Badenoch has had a rapid ascent through the ranks of the Conservative party, including a post as equalities minister. She resigned from government last week.  

Ms Badenoch was selected as the Conservative candidate for Saffron Walden, a safe seat for her party, in the 2017 election. Pictured, with her baby in a carrier as she is sworn in as an Member of Parliament on the first day of Parliament in House of Commons, in London

Ms Badenoch was selected as the Conservative candidate for Saffron Walden, a safe seat for her party, in the 2017 election. Pictured, with her baby in a carrier as she is sworn in as an Member of Parliament on the first day of Parliament in House of Commons, in London

Ms Badenoch has had a rapid ascent through the ranks of the Conservative party, including a post as equalities minister. She resigned from government last week. Pictured, Ms Badenoch (second from right) with former Chancellor Rishi Sunak and fellow Exchequer staff

Ms Badenoch has had a rapid ascent through the ranks of the Conservative party, including a post as equalities minister. She resigned from government last week. Pictured, Ms Badenoch (second from right) with former Chancellor Rishi Sunak and fellow Exchequer staff

After first announcing her candidacy in The Times, Ms Badenoch officially launched her campaign in a speech at the Policy Exchange think tank on Tuesday.  

In a wide-ranging speech, Ms Badenoch attempted to add economic heft to her anti-woke foundations, with a slapdown of her rivals over their un-costed tax cut offers.

But she also lashed out at British businesses that focus more on social change instead of making money, as she laid out her free market credentials.

She said: ‘The ability to defend the free market as the fairest way of helping people prosper has been undermined. It has been undermined by a willingness to embrace protectionism because of special interests.

‘It’s been undermined by retreating in the face of the Ben and Jerry’s tendency.

‘They will say a business’s main priority is social justice, not productivity and profit.

‘And it’s been undermined by the actions of crony capitalists colluding with big bureaucracy to rig the system in favour of incumbents against entrepreneurs.’

The MP for Saffron Walden has the declared support of 15 colleagues, including recent Cabinet minister Michael Gove, who was at her campaign launch.

The MP for Saffron Walden has the declared support of 15 colleagues, including recent Cabinet minister Michael Gove, who was at her campaign launch. Pictured, Ms Badenoch leaving her London home earlier this week

The MP for Saffron Walden has the declared support of 15 colleagues, including recent Cabinet minister Michael Gove, who was at her campaign launch. Pictured, Ms Badenoch leaving her London home earlier this week

Standing in front of a union flag-patterned backdrop bearing the slogan ‘Kemi for Prime Minister’, she said: ‘In the debate we’ve been having about the future of our party and our country, there have been lots of promises to cut taxes.

‘I am committed to reducing corporate and personal taxes, but I will not enter into a tax bidding war over: ”My tax cuts are bigger than yours”.’

‘For too long, politicians have been saying you can have it all – you can have your cake and eat it,’ she added.

‘But I’m here to tell you that that isn’t true – it never has been.

‘There are always tough choices in life and in politics: no free lunches, no tax cuts without limits on Government spending, no stronger defence without a slimmer state.

‘Unlike others, I’m not going to promise you things without a plan to deliver them.’

Ms Badenoch said she would tackle the economic crisis by cutting spending on international aid, university student subsidies, and ‘superfluous support staff’ including well-being officers and diversity ‘tick-box exercises’.

She said: ‘While the priority of the £300 billion the Government spends on procurement should be value for money, in truth this is being undermined by tick-box exercises in sustainability, diversity and equality.

‘These are good things but they need to be done properly.

‘Why are we spending millions on people’s jobs which literally didn’t exist a decade ago, like staff well-being coordinators in the public sector?’

She added that she would ‘get the police to focus on neighbourhood crime’ rather than ‘waste time and resources worrying about hurt feelings online’.

The Essex MP is competing with prominent Cabinet faces including Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss, but she said her lack of experience is a ‘huge advantage’ because she does not come with ‘the baggage of so many of the decisions that have been made’ in recent years.

‘People want a fresh face, and they can’t have somebody who has been in Cabinet a very long time,’ she added.

Ms Badenoch said she has ‘a lot of respect’ for Mr Sunak and Ms Truss, but she is ‘not worried’ about running against them.

She said her Government would be guided by the ‘Conservative principles’ of a ‘limited government doing less, but better’ and a ‘strong nation state’.

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Stephanie Linning

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