LONDON, Sept 6 (Reuters) - 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.
Truss appointed Kwasi Kwarteng – whose parents came from Ghana in the
1960s – as Britain's first Black finance minister while James Cleverly is
the first Black foreign minister.
Cleverly, whose mother hails from Sierra Leone and whose father is white,
has in the past spoken about being bullied as a mixed-race child and has
said the party needs to do more to attract Black voters.
Suella 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
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
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
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 6% 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 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. The first
lawmaker of Asian descent, Mancherjee Bhownaggree in 1895, also came from
Johnson assembled the youngest and most ethnically diverse Cabinet in
history when he elected prime minister in 2019. His three finance
ministers included two men of South Asian origin and one of Kurdish
The changes followed a years-long effort by former leader and Prime
Minister David Cameron.
When he took over in 2005, the party had just two ethnic minority members
of parliament out of 196, and he set out to ensure that his party more
closely resembled the modern Britain it hoped to lead.
The next year, Cameron introduced a priority list of female and minority
candidates to be selected, many for safe seats in the House of Commons.
Truss was a beneficiary of this push.
"A key part of ensuring the strength and resilience of any group,
including a political party, is the avoidance of everyone thinking and
acting in the same way – the avoidance of group-think," said James
Arbuthnot, a member of the party board's committee on candidates when
Cameron introduced the changes.
But Kwarteng has played down the significance of his ethnicity. He has
said that, although he experienced racist insults growing up in the
eighties, he does not see himself as a symbol of anyone other than his
constituents in Spelthorne, which borders London's south-west suburbs.
"I actually think that it's not that much of a big deal," he said after
being appointed as the first Black Conservative front-bench minister. "I
think once you've made the point, I don't think it's something that comes
up that much."