Liz Truss’s cabinet is the first in the UK without white people in senior positions

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  • For the first time, no white man has held any of the four top jobs
  • Kwarteng brings financial portfolio Cleverly to foreign affairs office
  • Diversity is now ‘normal’ in UK, experts say

LONDON, Sept 6 (Reuters) – Britain’s new prime minister, Liz Truss, has chosen a cabinet that, for the first time, will be free of a white man in one of the country’s four most important ministerial posts.

Truss appointed Kwasi Kwarteng (whose parents were from Ghana in the 1960s) as Britain’s first black finance minister, and James Cleverly as the first black foreign minister.

Cleverly, whose mother is from Sierra Leone and whose father is white, has spoken of being bullied in the past as biracial and said the party needs to do more to appeal to black voters.

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Suella Braverman’s parents came to the UK from Kenya and Mauritius six years ago to succeed Priti Patel as the second minority home secretary or home secretary, who will be in charge of police and immigration.

The growing diversity is partly due to the Conservative Party’s push in recent years to put forward more diverse parliamentary candidates.

Until a few decades ago, the British government was dominated by white people. The UK did not appoint its first minority cabinet minister until 2002, when Paul Boateng was appointed chief secretary to the Treasury.

Rishi Sunak, whose parents are from India, is Kwarteng’s predecessor in finance and a Truss runner-up in leadership.

“Politics has set the pace. We now see it as normal, this diversity,” said Sand Katwara, director of Future of Britain, a nonpartisan think tank focused on immigration and identity. “The speed of change is extraordinary.”

However, the upper echelons of business, the judiciary, civil servants and the military are still predominantly white.

Despite the party’s diversity campaign, only a quarter of Conservative MPs are women and 6% are from ethnic minority backgrounds.

Track record

Nonetheless, the Conservative Party has the best political record of any major party, including the appointment of the first Jewish Prime Minister under Benjamin Disraeli in 1868.

This is despite the fact that minority voters are more likely to back the opposition Labour Party, while the ruling party faces accusations of racism, misogyny and Islamophobia.

Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson apologised in 2019 for describing Muslim women in burqas as looking like letterboxes.

The Conservative Party has elected three female prime ministers of the UK, Margaret Thatcher, Theresa May and now Truss. In 1895, the first Asian-American MP, Mancherjee Bhownaggree, was also from the Conservative Party.

Johnson formed the youngest and most racially diverse cabinet in history when he was elected prime minister in 2019. His three finance ministers include two South Asian men and one of Kurdish background.

The changes follow a years-long effort by former leader and Prime Minister David Cameron.

When he came to power in 2005, the party had just two minority MPs in a 196-member parliament, and he set out to ensure his party was closer to the modern Britain it wanted to lead.

The following year, Cameron introduced a priority list of women and minority candidates, many of which sought to secure safe seats in the House of Commons. Trusses are the beneficiaries of this push.

“A key part of ensuring the strength and resilience of any group, including political parties, is to avoid everyone thinking and acting the same way — avoiding group thinking,” said James Absnott, a member of the party’s committee. Cameron introduced the changes to the Candidate Committee.

But Kwarteng downplayed the importance of his race. He has said that despite the racist insults he experienced growing up in the 80s, he did not see himself as a symbol for anyone but voters in Spelthorne, which borders the south-west London suburb.

“I actually don’t think it’s a big deal,” he said after being named the first black Conservative frontbench minister. “I think once you bring this up, I don’t think it’s going to come out as much.”

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Reporting by Andrew MacAskill and Humza Jilani; Editing by Andrew Cowsan

Our Standard: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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