England’s New Conservative Superstar

At a small dinner party earlier this year—months before Boris Johnson resigned and she threw her hat in the ring to become prime minister, coming closer than anyone predicted—Kemi Badenoch, the 42-year-old MP for the Essex market town of Saffron Walden, was absorbed in fixing the TV so that it played cheesy early 2000s tunes. It was confusing to have to make a TV play music, but that was the only music source that night, and she went with it until Bootylicious by Destiny’s Child and Nelly’s Hot in Here rang from the speakers.

That done, she sensed trouble in the kitchen, and went to help the host out with the overheating purple sprouting broccoli. She drank the good French wine with zest, and, over dinner, asked sharp questions about the government’s handling of Covid, and the best way for those in power to approach the trans debate. 

Her demeanor in private that night matched her public persona, which, very suddenly two weeks ago, became a matter of intense public fascination. 

Pundits have described Badenoch as a Tory Barack Obama, with headlines boosting her as Labour’s “worst nightmare” and the “antiwoke crusader” Britain needs. She comfortably deploys the kind of bold and direct speech about complicated ideas that seem impossible for other politicians. In other words, she speaks like a normal person. And like Obama, Badenoch is an outsider: born to Nigerian parents, raised in Lagos, she worked at McDonalds when she arrived as a teenager in the U.K.

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