LONDON: The new British prime minister, Liz Truss, has selected a cabinet where for the first time a white man will not hold one of the country’s four most important ministerial positions.
The cabinet, which met for the first time on Wednesday amid energy crisis, includes the most diverse top team in British history: Kwasi Kwarteng as finance minister, James Cleverly as foreign secretary and Suella Braverman as interior minister.
Kwarteng’s parents came from Ghana in the 1960s as Britain’s first Black finance minister while Cleverly, whose mother hails from Sierra Leone and whose father is white, is the first Black foreign minister.
Braverman, whose parents came to Britain from Kenya and Mauritius six decades ago, succeeds Priti Patel as the second ethnic minority home secretary, or interior minister, where she will be responsible for police and immigration.
The growing diversity is in part thanks to a push by the Conservative Party in recent years to put forward a more varied set of candidates for parliament.
British governments have until a few decades ago been made up of mostly white men. It took until 2002 for Britain to appoint its first ethnic minority cabinet minister when Paul Boateng was appointed chief secretary to the Treasury.
Rishi Sunak, whose parents came from India, was Kwarteng’s predecessor in the finance job and the runner-up to Truss in the leadership context.
“Politics has set the pace. We now treat it as normal, this diversity,” said Sunder Katwala, director of non-partisan think-tank British Future, which focuses on migration and identity. “The pace of change is extraordinary.”
However, the upper ranks of business, the judiciary, the civil service and army are all still predominately white. And despite the party’s diversity campaign, only a quarter of Conservative members of parliament are women and six per cent from minority backgrounds.
Nevertheless, the Conservatives have the best track record of political firsts among the main political parties, including appointing the first Jewish prime minister in Benjamin Disraeli in 1868.
This is despite the fact ethnic minority voters are much more likely to back the opposition Labour party and the ruling party has faced accusations of racism, misogyny and Islamophobia.
Former UK prime minister Boris Johnson apologised in 2019 for describing Muslim women wearing burqas as looking like letter boxes.
The Conservatives have elected all three of Britain’s female prime ministers, Margaret Thatcher, Theresa May and now Truss.
Published in Dawn, September 8th, 2022