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Who cares if Starmer’s cabinet is diverse?

There are far more important things than a minister’s gender or skin colour.

Rakib Ehsan

Rakib Ehsan
Columnist

Topics Identity Politics Politics UK

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It may only be a few days old, but the new UK Labour government is already indulging in all kinds of identity politics.

Keir Starmer used his first parliamentary speech as prime minister to hail the diversity of the new House of Commons, in terms of race, gender and sexuality. His cabinet is already being praised in the media as the ‘most gender-balanced in history’, with 46 per cent women.

Much has also been made of Rachel Reeves becoming the UK’s first female chancellor of the exchequer. Obviously, the breaking of this particular glass ceiling – as with any glass ceiling – is welcome. But the exaggerated enthusiasm over her appointment on the grounds of her sex is now verging on cringeworthy. What should be more important is whether Reeves can foster the conditions that enable economic growth and gains in productivity. Forget about her biology.

Perhaps even more absurd has been the obsession over the racial makeup of the new cabinet. Shortly after being appointed as foreign secretary, David Lammy referred to himself as ‘a descendant of enslaved people – a black, working-class man from Tottenham’. Of course, there’s no harm in taking pride in where you’re from. But why frame this, as Lammy does, through the prism of victimhood? Surely it would have been more powerful and uplifting for our foreign secretary to celebrate Britain’s positive track record on racial equality?

Lammy has often played the role of identitarian opportunist. During Labour’s time in opposition, he exploited questions of race to score cheap political points. In 2019, he infamously compared the pro-Brexit European Research Group faction of the Conservative Party to Nazis and white supremacists. In 2021, he refused to answer female Labour members’ concerns about trans ideology because ‘as a black man, who is the descendent of enslaved people, I’m really not going to take any lectures about rights’. His identitarian outbursts are as divisive as they are absurd.

Meanwhile, on the backbenches, Dawn Butler, newly elected Labour MP for Brent East, has also been busy. Earlier this week, she shared photos with her other ethnic-minority party colleagues, posting them on X with the caption: ‘Labour government showing off the melanin.’ What else should we expect from Butler, who in 2020 evoked the death of George Floyd in the House of Commons by demanding that the UK government get its ‘knee off the neck’ of Britain’s ethnic minorities?

The idea that this new Labour government is especially racially diverse – and must be praised to the hills for this – is ridiculous for a number of reasons. For all its many flaws, the outgoing Conservative government was incredibly diverse in terms of race, ethnicity and gender. For starters, Rishi Sunak was the first non-white prime minister. Sunak also appointed James Cleverly as home secretary and Kemi Badenoch as business and trade secretary, both of whom are black. Badenoch is even widely tipped as a frontrunner to be the next Tory leader.

In previous Tory cabinets, there was former chancellor Sajid Javid, who is of Pakistani origin, and Priti Patel and Suella Braverman, both of Indian descent. Kwasi Kwarteng (born to Ghanaian parents) was chancellor under Liz Truss. Alok Sharma (born in India) was business secretary under Boris Johnson. Claire Coutinho (of Goan extraction) was energy secretary until the General Election.

Of course, the Tories were never praised for their diversity in the same way that Labour is being praised now. Instead, the non-white politicians taking up high-ranking positions in previous Conservative governments were accused of being ‘Uncle Toms’ and ‘coconuts’. They were portrayed as veritable race traitors for failing to toe the line on woke.

Ultimately, the question that’s always missed when the elites gush over diversity is this: why should we care so much about identity in the first place? Why does the melanin content of the Labour benches matter so much to the likes of Butler? Far more important than skin colour should be how this government performs – especially when it comes to bread-and-butter issues such as the cost-of-living crisis, NHS waiting lists and precarious employment. These things matter far more to the average Brit than the specific heritage of any cabinet minister.

It is high time Labour and its cheerleaders curbed their obsession with the politics of victimhood and stopped this identitarian posturing. Ticking a few racial and gender boxes is no substitute for good governance.

Rakib Ehsan is the author of Beyond Grievance: What the Left Gets Wrong about Ethnic Minorities, which is available to order on Amazon.

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Identity Politics Politics UK

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