Who is Kwasi Kwarteng, Britain’s first black chancellor? | Political news

London, United Kingdom – In some ways, Kwasi Kwarteng’s elevation to the second most important post 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 UK as students in the 1960s, Kwarteng broke new ground by becoming the first black man to serve as Chancellor of the Exchequer.

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

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

“Some people would say he had a conventional climb to the top, from [fee-paying] public school through an elite university to the conservative party [Party] … then a high-level position in the cabinet,” Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London, told Al Jazeera.

“And as far as his position, he’s very much on the neoliberal right of the Conservative Party, he’s a market fundamentalist.”

Kwarteng studied at some of the UK’s most elite institutions and worked in media and finance before entering politics [File: Phil Noble/Reuters]

The political trip

After graduating, he worked as a columnist for Britain’s conservative-leaning Daily Telegraph – a job once also held by scandal-hit former Prime Minister Boris Johnson – before moving into banking as a as a financial analyst at the American investment company JP Morgan.

In 2000 he returned to Cambridge to complete a doctorate in economic history and turned to politics.

In 2010, Kwarteng was elected to the House of Commons as part of a new group of Conservative Party politicians, including current Prime Minister Liz Truss and other politicians who would go on to enjoy high profile, including Dominic Raab, Priti Patel and Sajid. Javid.

While he established a reputation as a rising star among his colleagues, Kwarteng was forced to wait several years for his first ministerial post, while others rose rapidly.

During this time he grew accustomed to the cut and thrust of Westminster politics and wrote several books on topics including finance, former Tory leader Margaret Thatcher and British imperialism.

He also co-wrote Britannia Unchained, a collection of essays by several Tory MPs, including Truss, which criticized British workers for being “among the worst idlers in the world” and denounced “the bloated state, high taxes and poverty”. excessive regulation” of the United Kingdom.

Kwarteng’s long-awaited promotion finally came in 2017, when he was appointed Parliamentary Private Secretary to then-Chancellor Phillip Hammond.

Since then, he has risen steadily through the political ranks, serving as Minister in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and as Business Secretary.

Now, as Chancellor, Kwarteng finds himself at the helm of a struggling British economy beset by runaway inflation and a cost of living crisis.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime crisis,” Jeevun Sandher, head of economics at the New Economics Foundation think tank, told Al Jazeera. “This is probably the most serious set of circumstances a Chancellor has faced since the Second World War.”

Focus on growth

Kwarteng will unveil his plan to fix the nation’s finances on Friday when he presents a ‘mini’ budget in the House of Commons setting out the government’s budget priorities.

He is expected to provide further details on a sweeping intervention in the energy market, which has been disrupted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The move is expected to cost up to 150 billion pounds ($170 billion).

Kwarteng is also reportedly preparing to announce tens of billions of pounds in tax cuts, including a reversal of the National Insurance contribution hike introduced by the Johnson administration, the reversal of a planned increase in the corporation tax from 19 to 25% and reduced stamp duty rates for those buying houses.

His intentions have been clearly signaled.

In an open letter published by the Financial Times ahead of his appointment as chancellor, Kwarteng said Truss’ administration had “two urgent responsibilities” – to help individuals and businesses facing “severe price shocks”, including including steep increases in their gas and electricity bills, and to stimulate economic growth.

“Measures are needed to help families and businesses get through this winter and the next,” he wrote, adding that it was imperative to “lay the groundwork” for long-term change.

“That means lowering taxes, putting money back in people’s pockets and freeing our businesses from heavy taxes and misguided regulations.”

Kwarteng’s self-proclaimed ‘unashamed’ focus on growth also led him to warn banking bosses he wanted to design a ‘Big Bang 2.0’ for the City of London to intensify competition in Britain’s financial sector. , which accounts for 8.3% of its total economic output.

He is reportedly considering scrapping the cap on bankers’ bonuses introduced by the European Union in 2014.

The curb, adopted by the UK when it was still just a member state, meant bonuses were capped at 100% of an employee’s salary, or double that with shareholder approval.

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

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“The vast majority will lose”

Overall, Kwarteng’s vision echoes the cascading neoliberal economic policies pursued by previous Conservative governments, including the one led by Thatcher from 1979 to 1990.

“[Kwarteng] believes in the state fading away and Britain maximizing its main comparative advantage which he sees as the City of London and finance,” Bale said.

“[But] presumably, with his background in economic history, he has a good idea of ​​what went wrong in the past.

“So it seems a bit odd that he’s taking this very radical approach, cutting taxes leads directly to growth, because there’s very little evidence of that either in the UK or in the world as a whole. together.”

With an election scheduled for 2024, Kwarteng hopes his measures will show signs of quickly benefiting the economy.

But critics including Sandher say his strategy will only increase inequality, helping ‘the rich get richer’ while those with low to middle incomes continue to struggle.

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

“In terms of the bet… come what may, it’s very clear that the British people will lose. They won’t have the investment they need for the future and they won’t be [lifted] out of the cost of living crisis.

“The economic outcome is going to be that the vast majority are going to lose, and the top 1% are going to win.”

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