London, United Kingdom – In a way, Kwasi Kwarteng’s rise to the second most important post in British politics could not be newer. In others it could not be more typical.
Born in London in 1975 to Ghanaian parents who emigrated to the UK as students 10 years earlier, Kwarteng broke new ground by becoming the first black man to hold the role of Chancellor of the Exchequer.
But the path he followed to 11 Downing Street is well-trodden.
He studied at Eton College and the University of Cambridge – one of the most elite institutions in the country – and has worked in media and finance.
“Some people would say he had a conventional rise to the top, from [fee-paying] public school to an elite university to the conservatives [Party] … and then a top cabinet job,” Tim Bale, a politics professor at Queen Mary University of London, told Al Jazeera.
“And in terms of his position, he’s very much on the neoliberal right-wing Conservative Party, he’s a market fundamentalist.”
The journey into politics
After graduating, he worked as a columnist for the conservative-leaning British newspaper Daily Telegraph – a job once held by scandal-ridden former Prime Minister Boris Johnson – before moving into banking as a financial analyst at American investment firm JP Morgan.
In 2000 he returned to Cambridge to do a PhD in economic history and turned to politics.
In 2010, Kwarteng was elected to the House of Commons as part of a new selection of Conservative Party politicians, including now Prime Minister Liz Truss, and other politicians who would later come to be held in high esteem, including Dominic Raab, Priti Patel and Sajid Javid.
While gaining a reputation as a rising star among peers, Kwarteng had to wait several years for his first ministerial position as others advanced quickly.
During this time he adjusted to the ebb and flow of Westminster politics and wrote several books on subjects such as finance, former Conservative leader Margaret Thatcher and British imperialism.
He was also co-author of Britannia Unchained, a collection of essays by several Conservative MPs including Truss, who criticized British workers for being “among the world’s worst slackers” and the “bloated state, the high taxes and the 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 steadily climbed the political ladder, serving as Minister in the Department of Economy, Energy and Industrial Strategy and Secretary of Commerce.
Now, as chancellor, Kwarteng is responsible for an ailing British economy beset by rising inflation and a cost-of-living crisis.
“This is a one-off crisis,” Jeevun Sandher, head of economics at think tank New Economics Foundation, told Al Jazeera. “It is possibly the most serious constellation that a Chancellor has faced since the Second World War.”
focus on growth
Kwarteng will unveil his plan to clean up public finances on Friday when he submits a “mini” budget to the House of Commons outlining the government’s fiscal priorities.
He is expected to provide more details on a sweeping intrusion into the energy market that has been rocked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The move is expected to cost up to £150 billion ($170 billion).
Kwarteng is also reportedly preparing to announce tens of billions of pounds’ worth of tax cuts, including a rollback of the increase in Social Security contributions introduced by Johnson’s government, the reversal of a proposed increase in corporate income tax from 19 per cent to 25 per cent and lowering stamp duty rates for those who Buy houses.
His intentions were clearly signaled.
In an open letter published by the Financial Times ahead of his appointment as chancellor, Kwarteng said the Truss government had “two urgent tasks” — to help individuals and companies facing “severe price shocks,” including sharp spikes their gas and electricity bills, and to boost economic growth.
“Action is needed to get families and businesses through this winter and next,” he wrote, adding that “laying the foundation for long-term change” is imperative.
“That means cutting taxes, putting money back in people’s pockets, and ridding our businesses of onerous taxes and improper regulations.”
Kwarteng’s self-described “outrageous” emphasis on growth has also led to him alerting bank bosses that he wants to stage a “Big Bang 2.0” for the City of London to increase competition in the UK financial sector, which 8, 3 percent accounts for economic output.
He is reportedly considering removing a cap on banker bonuses introduced by the European Union in 2014.
The restriction, introduced by Britain when it was still a member state, meant bonuses were capped at no more than 100 per cent of an employee’s salary, or twice that with shareholder approval.
Critics said the cap proved ineffective as banks simply hiked salaries.
“The vast majority will lose”
Overall, Kwarteng’s vision is reminiscent of the trickling neoliberal economic policies pursued by previous Conservative governments, including David Cameron’s between 2010 and 2016 and Margaret Thatcher’s between 1979 and 1990.
“[Kwarteng] believes the state is getting out of the way and that the UK is maximizing its main comparative advantage, which he sees as the City of London and finance,” Bale said.
“[But] With his background in economic history, he probably has a rough idea of what hasn’t worked in the past.
“So it seems a bit strange that he should lead this very radical approach of tax cuts straight to growth as there is very little evidence of that either in the UK or in the world at large.”
With elections expected in 2024, Kwarteng hopes his measures will quickly benefit the economy.
But critics, including Sandher, argue that his strategy will only increase inequality and “help the rich get richer,” while those on low- to middle-incomes continue to struggle.
“She [Truss’s government] know they have a roll of the dice,” Sandher said.
“In terms of a gamble…regardless of what happens, it is very clear that the British people will lose. They won’t have the investments they need going forward, and they won’t be [lifted] From the livelihood crisis.
“The economic outcome will be that the vast majority will lose and the top 1 percent will win.”