IN events decades in the making, Boris Johnson has finally taken the keys to Number Ten and assembled his ‘Cabinet for modern Britain’. While some of us understood the phrase in the context of his desire to look forward with positivity and verve, others have used it as an excuse to indulge in divisive identity politics.
Six of Johnson’s picks are black and ethnic minority politicians, while others such as Dominic Raab have non-British lineages, prompting the Guardian to insist that ‘modern Britain’ is ‘a euphemism for non-white’.
It’s not just Left-leaning media which have taken this line. The Guido Fawkes political blog triumphantly declared Johnson’s team the ‘most diverse Cabinet ever’, tallying six ethnic and eight female appointees.
New @Conservatives top team is #ModernBritain:
-Chancellor @sajidjavid = #Muslim, son of immigrant bus driver from Pakistan
-Foreign Sec @DominicRaab : son of a #Jewish refugee from Czech Republic
-Home Sec @patel4witham :daughter of #Hindu refugees from Uganda#Proud pic.twitter.com/yjCdOctixP
— Guy Opperman (@GuyOpperman) July 24, 2019
To bill the appointees in this way is to do them a huge disservice, as every one of them has taken his or her place at the Cabinet table on merit.
Two of the six ‘ethnics’, Priti Patel and Kwasi Kwarteng, were among five co-authors of the 2012 book Britannia Unchained with fellow cabinet appointees Dominic Raab and Liz Truss, who isn’t non-white but is a woman. The book laid out a comprehensive plan for adopting free market economic policies to power Britain into the 21st century.
In an article for Conservative Home published at the time of the book’s launch, four of the authors wrote: ‘We are convinced that Britain’s best days are not behind us. We cannot afford to listen to the siren voices of the statists who are happy for Britain to become a second-rate power in Europe, and a third-rate power in the world. Decline is not inevitable.’
This is almost word for word the line that Johnson has been taking since his election as party leader, strongly suggesting that the four appointments were made very much on policy lines. Indeed, Patel, a staunch Thatcherite, has long been touted as a rising star on the Right of the party thanks to her vehement defence of low-tax, low-spend economic policy.
Meanwhile, the new party chairman and Minister without Portfolio James Cleverly holds the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Army reserves. The new Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Rishi Sunak, was a Fulbright Scholar at Stanford University, where he studied for his MBA. Secretary of State for International Development Alok Sharma is a qualified chartered accountant who has advised on cross border mergers and acquisitions, and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.
To suggest that any of these ministers were given their place at the Cabinet table because of the colour of their skin is to rob them of the recognition they deserve for the hard work and effort they have put in over the years.
Britain basking in the sunshine could prove to be a fitting metaphor for Boris Johnson’s premiership. Certainly his positivity is a breath of fresh air following the decades of managed decline Britain suffered under his EU-oriented predecessors.
Unshackled from the stultifying effects of EU membership and marshalled by an enthusiastic and talented top team, there is no reason why in years to come people shouldn’t talk of the Johnsonite era as one in which the British lion roared. If they do, it will be because of the British talent on display across the Cabinet, not because of the ethnic diversity of its members. Let’s not fall into the divisive identity politics game.