Boris Johnson’s newest cabinet was, as he would like to have us believe, carefully selected to “reflect modern Britain”; and in terms of diversity, it seems to be a historically progressive selection of politicians. However the newest member, Therese Coffey, is indicative of an issue with this cabinet that runs too deep for diversity alone to address.
Amongst his cabinet one may find a healthy gender balance, and not just the typical sea of white faces the British public has grown wearingly accustomed to being governed by. Despite this, many of Johnson’s critics have accused his cabinet selection of being a tokenistic way of distracting from an underlying problem of racism in conservative politics and legitimising an agenda that is ultimately harmful to many minorities in Britain. After all, at the helm of this “historically diverse” cabinet is still a man who called African people “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles” and whose comments describing Muslim women as “ninjas” and “letterboxes” led to a 375% increase in Islamophobic incidents in Britain in the following week. Before, however, we join the sea of voices mounting up against Johnson’s cabinet selection, it’s important to stop and consider why a diverse political cabinet is important and how this cabinet is failing to benefit from such diversity.
A good diverse political cabinet should, at the most basic level, be composed of people who are both qualified to lead their country whilst at the same time being representative of the country they are serving. This is to ensure that the cabinet in question are truly representing the various groups that compose a society and not just appeasing a majority. It is also indicative of a social mobility that ensures any one social, gendered, or ethnic group is not just hoarding political power and looking out for their own self-interests.
Turning back to Johnson’s cabinet then, and despite Sunder Katwala’s praise of the cabinet for having “as much ethnic diversity… as there has been in the rest of British political history put together” the histories of these particular politicians speaks to a very sorry story.
Just scratching the surface, two-thirds of the current cabinet were privately educated with four of them all coming from the same school (Eton, of course) in stark contrast to the 7% of Brits who benefit from private education. And even more damningly over half of them voted against same sex marriage.
Priti Patel used her position as minister for international development to disguise the promotion of British businesses abroad as an international aid policy. Javid increased police stop and search powers despite the overwhelming evidence that they are used to unfairly target racial minorities in Britain. And Mirza has aired her troubling views on the “myth” of institutional racism.
These politicians then, despite being members of this “historically diverse” cabinet, have done far more harm than good for the British citizens they should be representing. And Johnson’s newest member of the cabinet is no variation from this damning theme.
Therese Coffey was appointed to replace Amber Rudd (who has stepped down from the cabinet and resigned from the Conservative party over Johnson’s handling of Brexit) as the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. However she has not also taken over Rudd’s position as Minister for Women and Equalities, presumably because she’d rather use her political power to oppose equality in Britain instead of further it.
Not only did she oppose same sex marriage when it was introduced to Britain in 2013; but she also vowed to “fight” sex and relationship education in schools as well as joining a group of MP’s who publicly reached out to the House of Lords in asking them to abuse their powers in blocking the aforementioned same sex marriage bill in 2013.
Diversity in politics is a wonderful thing. But it should bring in more progressive politics that benefit not just minorities but all members of society. Unfortunately, whilst men like Boris Johnson appoint women like Therese Coffey, it all stands as little more than a smoke and mirror way to promote regressive and harmful politics whilst retaining the votes of progressive citizens.
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