A diverse cabinet is great, but can Boris Johnson’s team actually deliver policies which reflect our diversity?

In 2019 it should be a given, not only for our government but also for the opposition and other political parties, that they seek to build a leadership that represents all of us.

Original article published on 3rd August 2019

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 the big question is whether his new top team can actually tackle some of the most pressing challenges facing our diverse communities.

There have only previously been 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 forming part 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’s appointment makes history as the first occupant of No11 from an Asian-Muslim heritage. This is not the first time Javid has broken new ground. At every department he led – culture, business, communities and the Home Office – he has made history. 

Priti Patel’s appointment as Home Secretary means she has become the first ethnic minority woman to hold one of the great offices of state. Her parents fled from Uganda and established a chain of newsagents. 

The impact of this cannot be underestimated. My work with the Prince’s Trust charity Mosaic has shown me that having role models for young people, 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 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 happen 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. At a time when our country is more divided than ever, the need for our political leaders to unite our different patchwork of communities has never been more important. 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. Our workers from ethnic minority communities are paid less on average than their white British colleagues and, for the first time, there more ethnic minority youths in young offender institutions than white British youngsters.

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