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Kemi Badenoch: From working in McDonald’s to the ‘anti-woke’ candidate for UK Prime Minister

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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 the 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 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 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.

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, 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 Badenoch’s father ‘scraped together’ enough money for a plane ticket and £100 for his daughter to start her new life.

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

“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.”

READ ALSO: Nigeria’s equity market declines N28 bln on losses in Zenith Bank, other shares

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 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.

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.”

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 – 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.

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

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

In a wide-ranging speech, 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 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.

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