Liz Truss, who won a bitter battle to succeed Boris Johnson as British prime minister, is presiding over a historic moment: For the first time, no White man holds one of Britain’s four top seats of political power.
Shortly after becoming prime minister on Tuesday, Truss got down to business and appointed her senior leadership team for the roles known as the “The Great Offices of State.”
She named Kwasi Kwarteng as chancellor of the exchequer, or finance chief, a role that will be pivotal as the country grapples with a cost-of-living crisis. On Tuesday evening, he tweeted that it was “the honour of a lifetime” to be appointed and promised to announce a “package of urgent support to help with energy bills.”
Kwarteng, whose parents migrated to Britain from Ghana, is the first Black Briton to hold the role. A decade ago, he wrote a book examining the British Empire’s rule in the former colonies of Iraq, Kashmir, Myanmar, Sudan, Nigeria and Hong Kong.
Truss’s new foreign secretary is James Cleverly, a mixed-race army reservist whose mother hails from Sierra Leone and whose father is from Wiltshire, about 90 miles outside London. He has spoken publicly about being bullied as a mixed-race child and has given talks at Conservative Party conferences about how the party can win the support of Black voters.
Cleverly will serve as Britain’s top diplomat at a time of rocky relations between it and the 27-nation E.U. bloc.
The new home secretary is Suella Braverman, whose parents came to Britain in the 1960s from Kenya and Mauritius.
The three names had been leaked in recent days and didn’t come as a surprise, in part because each person was a staunch Truss ally during her winning leadership campaign.
The diversity of the ministerial appointments won praise from some quarters, in a nation where Conservative Party members — about 0.3 percent of Britain’s population — are generally older, wealthier, 95 percent White and politically further to the right than Britain as a whole. (Nearly 85 percent of people living in England and Wales identify as White, government data shows.)
“The new cabinet is another reminder that people from all backgrounds can go far within the Tory party,” Samuel Kasumu, a former race affairs adviser to Johnson, told the Guardian newspaper.
Not everyone appeared convinced. A headline in Britain’s right-wing Daily Mail tabloid declared ruefully: “Liz Truss puts finishing touches to diverse new government: No place for white men in great offices of state.”
Her predecessor, Johnson, also had a fairly diverse senior ministerial lineup. Home Secretary Priti Patel was the first British member of Parliament of Indian origin to take up that appointment, while the three chancellors during Johnson’s premiership included two men of South Asian origin and one of Kurdish background. Truss was Johnson’s foreign secretary.
Some pointed out that although ethnically diverse, Truss’s probable top appointees are in the party’s right wing. Kwarteng had pushed for Britain to quickly leave the European Union, while Braverman has said that schools may be able legally to ignore the preferred pronouns of gender-nonconforming and transgender pupils.
The 47-year-old Truss promises to cut taxes and bolster borrowing to fund spending, even as inflation soars past 10 percent and the Bank of England forecasts a protracted recession by year’s end. Truss also has promised to make reducing illegal migration a key priority, ensuring the continuation of a policy to deport to Rwanda asylum seekers who enter Britain on small boats.
The left-of-center opposition Labour Party has more ethnically and gender-diverse lawmakers, but they occupy a smaller proportion of the party’s highest posts. Labour has never elected a woman as its party leader; the Conservatives, by contrast, have had three female prime ministers.
Labour politician Shaista Aziz said on Twitter in response to news of Truss’s potential appointees that it is “not enough to be a Black or ethnic minority politician in this country or a cabinet member. That’s not what representation is about. That’s actually tokenism.”
In the run-up to the leadership vote, Aziz wrote an article panning the Conservatives as failing to represent the concerns of ordinary people.
“Despite all the talk of diversity and inclusion, the Tory candidates of colour and all those who entered the race support the party’s right-wing immigration policies, which include removing asylum seekers from the UK and flying them to Rwanda while their asylum applications are processed,” she wrote last month.
Labour lawmaker Marsha de Cordova said that although Truss’s cabinet is expected to be diverse, “it will be the most right-wing in living memory, embracing a political agenda that will attack the rights of working people, especially minorities.”
Karla Adam and William Booth contributed to this report.