Will Boris be the first British PM to be married at 10 Downing Street?

Columnist  | Kishwar Desai

Opinion, Oped

Priti Patel has been given a budgetary boost already by PM Boris Johnson, as he has promised — £1.1 billion for recruiting more police officers.

Britain’s new Prime Minister Boris Johnson makes a statement in the House of Commons in London on Thursday. (Photo: AFP)

Well, lots of women of Indian origin are making the news out here! We have had Priti Patel, the freshly appointed home secretary talking at length at how she is going to make criminals tremble in fear — at one end —and at the other end we have the talented Dr Bhasha Mukherjee, just selected Miss England, expressing her delight at the award.

Priti Patel is now in her third innings as a minister and each time she is given a more responsible post — even Boris Johnson admitted that she was chosen because she is so popular. We have very fond memories of how helpful she was when we were setting up the Gandhi Statue at Westminster Square: she would take time out to check on the progress and lend a helpful hand, as did Sajid Javid, who is now the chancellor of the exchequer.

Priti Patel has been given a budgetary boost already by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, as he has promised — £1.1 billion for recruiting more police officers. And while one of the biggest hurdles has remained the issue of immigration for each government — she says she will support a points-based system, post Brexit, to allow the best and the brightest to enter. Her own journey in the UK began when her parents fled from Uganda in the 1970s, and later opened a news agency in Tottenham. She attributes her success to the hard work she has put in her whole life, even working in the shops her parents had set up.

Dr Bhasha Mukherjee, England’s latest beauty queen, is just 23, and came from India when she was nine years old. In her interviews, she says she suffered “casual racism”, was thought to be the weird girl, and called “Ugly Betty” because she wore glasses. What better way to sort out those school bullies than to win a beauty competition — and to start her work as a junior doctor at Pilgrim Hospital in Lincolnshire the same week… phew!

These are the stories that are changing the image of the Indian woman everywhere — and certainly in the UK, the terms “ambitious” and “Indian woman” are more likely to be heard together than ever before.

Boris, Boris, Boris! That’s all we get to hear these days. The man has taken over every bit of newsprint in the country! And I am not complaining as he is the first Prime Minister to have actually bought a house south of London, in the area where we live, before being catapulted into Number 10. At last the pull of Islington in North London has dimmed, or it may be the influence of the “first girlfriend”, Carrie Symonds, who is also getting a lot of press. Carrie Symonds already had a flat in these parts — personally because I think she is more grounded than most Tories. She also is credited with the makeover of the Prime Minister, trimming his nest of blonde hair, and making him lose some weight. Certainly, Mr Johnson is beginning to sound a little more sober and less likely to be floating off on some hot air balloon.

It is interesting to see that in even a so called “liberal” country like the UK, there has been a lot of debate whether the first girlfriend should be invited to Balmoral to meet the Queen, and there was some criticism on whether she should stay at Number 10, Downing Street. This is surprising because “living together” appears to be the norm in the UK, whether or not it ends in marriage. Perhaps Mr Johnson will be the first Prime Minister also to be married in office, as it is doubtful if he actually delivers on Brexit and survives — the two can continue to “live together” forever. Tut tut.

In the midst of all the various visits Mr Johnson was making all over the place, he managed to find time for a “date night” with Carrie. I think that got him a few brownie points with women voters who are (given his long history of womanising) more likely to find him unreliable.

Good luck to Carrie — I quite like her!

Meanwhile, London is always full of interesting theatre shows and films. And this time we dipped into nostalgia with the film Marianne and Leonard: Words of Love, directed by Nick Broomfield. It delves very sensitively with the relationship between the Canadian singer Leonard Cohen and the Norwegian Marianne Ihlen, whom he met and fell in love with on the Greek island of Hydra. She became his muse, and so many of his songs were written in that period, including of course the one dedicated to her — So Long, Marianne and the unforgettable Bird on a Wire. This was obviously before the dark, handsome and brooding Cohen met Suzanne — and wrote another hit song dedicated to his new muse. The film captures the 1960s and the free love and hippie movement which revolutionised society and introduced the culture of the party drug, and “acid”. Before Cohen turned to Buddhism, he candidly admitted that he was completely stoned before practically every stage appearance. But for me, importantly, the film was a trip down memory lane, remembering and humming along songs which Cohen drawled out, and which we had grown up with. Of course, needless to say, the audience was all of a certain vintage!