Who was Kwasi Kwarteng, the UK’s first black prime minister? | Political news

London, United Kingdom – In a way, Kwasi Kwarteng’s elevation to the second most important position in British politics couldn’t be more novel. In others, it couldn’t be more typical.

Born in London in 1975 to Ghanaian parents who had emigrated to the United Kingdom as a student 10 years earlier, Kwarteng made a new twist by becoming the first Black person to hold the role. leader of the Excequer.

But the path he followed to 11 Downing Street was well worn.

He studied at Eton College and Cambridge University – one of the country’s most elite institutions – and has worked in media and finance.

“Some would say he rose to the usual lead, from [fee-paying] public schools through an elite university to the Conservative Party [Party] … And then a top cabinet job,” Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London, told Al Jazeera.

“And as far as his position goes, he’s very supportive of the Conservative Party’s neo-liberal rights, he’s a market fundamentalist.”

Journey into politics

After graduating, he worked as a columnist for the UK’s conservative Daily Telegraph – a job once held by a scandal-ridden former prime minister. Boris Johnson – before moving into banking as a financial analyst at the US investment firm JP Morgan.

In 2000, he returned to Cambridge to complete a PhD in economic history, and turned his attention to politics.

In 2010, Kwarteng was elected to the House of Commons as part of a host of new Conservative politicians, including current Prime Minister Liz Truss and other politicians who will continue to be popular favourites, including including Dominic Raab, Priti Patel and Sajid Javid.

While popular with colleagues as a rising star, Kwarteng was forced to wait several years for his first ministerial post, as others advanced rapidly.

During that time, he became accustomed to the cuts and impulses of Westminster politics and wrote a number of books on topics including finance, former Conservative leader Margaret Thatcher and British imperialism.

He also co-authored Britannia Unchained, a collection of essays by several Conservative MPs, including Truss, criticizing British workers as “one of the worst idlers in the world” gender” and denounced the UK’s “clumsiness, high taxes and over-regulation”.

Kwarteng’s long-awaited promotion finally came in 2017, when he was appointed parliamentary private secretary to then-Prime Minister Phillip Hammond.

Since then, he has steadily climbed the political ladder, holding roles as a minister at the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and business secretary.

Now, as prime minister, Kwarteng finds himself in charge of an ailing UK economy beset by soaring inflation and a cost-of-living crisis.

Jeevun Sandher, chief economist for the New Economy, told Al Jazeera: “This is a once-in-a-lifetime crisis. “This could be the most serious situation confronting any prime minister since the second world war.”

Focus on growth

Kwarteng will reveal his plans to regulate the nation’s finances on Friday when he will introduce a “small” budget to the House of Commons that outlines the government’s fiscal priorities.

He is expected to provide more details about a far-reaching intervention in the energy market, which has been rattled by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The move is expected to cost up to 150 billion pounds ($170 billion).

Kwarteng is also said to be preparing to announce tens of billions of pounds worth of tax cuts, including reversing an increase in national insurance contributions put forward by Johnson’s administration, canceling plans to raise taxes. businesses from 19 to 25% and reduce stamp duty for homebuyers.

His intentions were clearly signaled.

In an open letter published by the Financial Times ahead of his appointment as prime minister, Kwarteng said the Truss administration had “two pressing responsibilities” – helping individuals and businesses face “severe price shocks”. important”, including to dramatically increase their electricity and gas bills, and to spur economic growth.

Action is needed to get families and businesses through this and next winter, he wrote, adding that it is imperative to “lay the groundwork” for lasting change.

“This means cutting taxes, putting money back in people’s pockets and keeping our businesses free from heavy taxes and inappropriate regulations.”

Kwarteng’s self-described emphasis on “shameless” growth also drew the attention of bankers that he wanted to design a “Big Bang 2.0” for the City of London to enhance competition in the financial sector. of the United Kingdom, which accounts for 8.3% of economic output.

He is said to be considering scrapping the bankers bonus cap introduced by the European Union in 2014.

This limit was adopted by the UK when it was a member state, meaning bonuses are limited to no more than 100% of an employee’s salary, or double with shareholder approval.

Critics say the cap has proved ineffective, with banks simply raising wages.

‘Most will be lost’

Overall, Kwarteng’s vision echoes the drippy, neo-liberal economic policies pursued by previous Conservative governments, including the one led by David Cameron between 2010 and 2016 and the one led by David Cameron. by Margaret Thatcher from 1979-1990.

“[Kwarteng] believes the state is on the right track and in the UK will maximize the main comparative advantage he sees as the City of London and finance,” said Bale.

“[But] perhaps, given his background in economic history, he has a fair idea of ​​what hasn’t worked in the past.

“So it seems a bit strange that he views this very radical tax cut as leading directly to a growth approach, as there is little evidence for that, either in the UK or around the world.”

With an election expected in 2024, Kwarteng will be hoping his measures show signs of quickly benefiting the economy.

But critics, including Sandher, say his strategy will only increase inequality, helping “the rich get richer” while low- to middle-income earners continue to struggle. .

“Surname [Truss’s government] know they have a dice roll,” said Sandher.

“About a gamble… whatever happens, it is clear that the British people will lose. They won’t have the necessary investment for the future and they won’t [lifted] out of the cost of living crisis.

“The economic outcome will be that the majority will lose, and the top one percent will win.”

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