by HARRIS BOKHARI
National board member
PRIME MINISTER Boris Johnson has brought together the most diverse cabinet in our political history to match the most diverse parliament that has ever been elected, but will his new top team tackle some the most pressing challenges facing our diverse communities?
There have only been previously 12 bearers of the great offices of state – prime minister, chancellor, foreign secretary and home secretary – who have been a woman or from an ethnic minority in our history.
Nine of them have been members of Conservative cabinets.
From watching his mother scrubbing the ‘P’ word off the front of his parents’ shop to becoming the new chancellor, Sajid Javid makes history as the first occupant of No 11 from an Asian-Muslim heritage. This is not the first time he has broken the glass ceiling. At every department he led – culture, business, communities and the Home Office – Javid made history.
Priti Patel’s appointment as home secretary (her parents fled from Uganda and established a chain of newsagents) means she has become the first ethnic minority woman to hold one of the great offices of state.
The impact of having some of the most powerful positions in our country held by people from an ethnic minority background or heritage cannot be underestimated. My work with the Prince’s Trust charity Mosaic has shown me that for young people, having role models who look like them and come from the same background can be transformative – developing an “if they can do it, so can we” attitude.
The appointment of Munira Mirza as one of Boris’s top team of advisers also puts into sharp focus the absence of any meaningful diversity in Theresa May’s senior advisory team.
While initiatives such as the Race Disparity Audit are important steps towards publicising racial inequalities across the public sector, without diversity in representation among the people who actually have the power to make policy decisions, the changes we need to see won’t be forthcoming.
In 2019, we shouldn’t simply be hoping for a diverse cabinet. It should be a given, not only for our government, but also for the opposition and the other political parties that seek to represent us. Our politics and policy-making can only be as good as the diverse range of voices within it.
Analysis from the Office for National Statistics shows the ethnic pay gap is still at worrying levels. Workers from ethnic minority communities are paid less on average than their white British colleagues and, for the first time, there are more ethnic minority youths in young offender institutions than their white British peers. The need for a progressive diverse policy agenda to match these welcome appointments is crucial if they are to have a lasting and meaningful diverse and inclusive legacy.
However, diversity for the sake of diversity is not good for our politics. We have seen how those from minority backgrounds who have been poorly supported, and been promoted despite clearly not being suitable, have had a damaging impact on the generation to follow.
Javid, Patel and Mirza are not around the top table because of their ethnicity and gender, they are there because they deserve to be there.
The appointment of the most diverse cabinet of date is a step in the right direction, but this government must do better and more if we want a society which is diverse and inclusive, with true equality for all.
The question is, will our new prime minister continue to bring about positive change in our politics – change that can help bring our communities together – by following the most diverse cabinet ever assembled with a policy agenda to match?