The Daily Telegraph
With a Cabinet built on talent and determination, Tories have shown what real diversity looks like
Irecall watching the final of University Challenge in 1995. For us academics it is akin to the World Cup, and that year Trinity College Cambridge would win with their secret weapon: an Afro-wearing Kwasi Kwarteng. He single-handedly led his side to victory, answering some questions before presenter Jeremy
Paxman could even finish a sentence.
This was years after he’d won a King’s scholarship to attend Eton College, where he later became the recipient of the Newcastle Scholarship, reserved for the brightest pupils who must take a series of written exams over a week. By the end of his education, Kwasi achieved a first in classics and history. Today he is our Chancellor of the Exchequer.
The reality is that the Liz Truss government marks a turning point in Britain. It has the most diverse Cabinet in our history, yes, but it is also important to note that this has not come from some Bbc-style “Black and Asian diversity” initiative. They all got there because they were the best for the job.
Kwasi has been picked because he is clearly the big brains in the Cabinet.
Many have commented on his quiet demeanour in contrast to his loud and animated former leader. Surely this is what we now need from the “accountant general” in a time of crisis.
Ghanaians often say that they are the calming force in the west Africa region and Kwasi has inherited that characteristic. It will be tough for Labour to put the boot into him, for he is a unique talent exemplary of the precise opposite of token schemes or affirmative action programmes.
Much like the BBC, Channel 4 and our charity sector, Labour still struggles to have diversity in its leadership – even if all these organisations talk of their ethnic minority projects that seek to build diversity into their organisations.
What unites such failed attempts is that they have invested in victimhood, not agency. Of course, it would be naive to think that there are no race
‘They have worked their way to the top by sheer determination, intellect and bags of confidence’
and institutional barriers within the Conservative Party, but it at least realises that once you make your party truly meritocratic, the likes of James Cleverly and Kemi Badenoch come rushing through the door.
No one can say that Suella Braverman got any shortcuts because of her race. I remember meeting Suella and her father in London when she told me she had attempted two or three times to get selected as an MP. No easy ride, just a talented Cambridge educated barrister who kept trying until she got the break.
This experience of having to go into a pool and be the best swimmer has given her the steel to not only become attorney general under Boris Johnson but now the Home Secretary. It has also made her incredibly competitive.
James Cleverly went to Thames Valley University, a world away from Oxbridge, and then served in the Armed Forces. He is now our Foreign Secretary. James will go on to the world stage and represent Britain; his credentials will be that he’s an excellent diplomat.
His image will be that of a confident, diverse and most importantly meritocratic nation. Kemi Badenoch, the new International Trade Secretary, was the romantic story of the recent leadership race.
It was clear that she was not only popular amongst the Conservative MPS, who took her to the semi-finals, but a significant number of Tory members who wanted her on the final ticket.
Here was a woman who in the past had worked in Mcdonald’s to supplement her income. She is the epitome of self-made Britain, proud of the country she has made home.
What these ethnic minority Cabinet members have in common is that, having come from immigrant backgrounds, they worked their way to the top by sheer determination, intellect and bags of confidence.
In my recent Race and Ethnic disparities report (The Sewell Report) I speak of the new “Immigrant Optimism”. Whilst it does not deny the reality of racism, it does acknowledge that Britain, in most areas, is open for the best to rise to the top on the basis of talent. The real test of my thesis was the Tory Party, often castigated as the headquarters of racism. Well, now it is the showroom of real diversity.