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7 September 2022

Why are right-wingers suddenly excited about diversity?

The same people who rail against wokery can't stop talking about the ethnicities of the new cabinet.

By Rachel Cunliffe

Britain now has its third female prime minister, and for the first time in history none of the four great offices of state (the PM, plus chancellor, foreign secretary and home secretary) are occupied by a white man.

This has been the cause of much rejoicing among Conservatives, who note that Labour, which styles itself as the party of diversity, has a far more homogeneous front bench than the new Truss cabinet. It has been of particular interest to figures on the right who rail against left-wing “wokery”, such as the Daily Mail columnist Sarah Vine, contrarian Toby Young, and the politics professor Matt Goodwin

This sudden fascination from the right with ethnic and gender diversity comes as something of a surprise given how the debate usually plays out. This is the crowd that tends to regard efforts to increase diversity – whether in politics, boardrooms or top universities – with suspicion. Goodwin has been especially vocal about the plight of white, working-class boys (“Britain’s new oppressed minority”) who have been losing out on Oxbridge places and lucrative careers as middle-class girls and candidates from Indian or Chinese backgrounds overtake them. 

There are few white working-class boys in Liz Truss’s cabinet, but that doesn’t seem to bother Goodwin. Diversity, suddenly, isn’t wokery gone mad but a cause for celebration. And anyone on the left complaining about these new appointments – because they went to Eton or are millionaires or don’t seem to understand international law – should get their story straight and decide how important they think diversity really is.

Of course, as anyone on the anti-woke team would usually be quick to point out, there are different kinds of diversity. Visible representation matters – it’s important that aspiring politicos (or doctors or lawyers or Oxbridge candidates) who aren’t white men can see that people who look like them can make it to the top. The Conservative Party – and, indeed, the United Kingdom – should be rightly proud that the past four chancellors have been ethnic minority Brits, that both the Prime Minister and her Deputy are female, and that this cabinet is far more representative of modern Britain than previous ones. And the Labour Party, which has only ever appointed white men to the top job, should be thinking hard about why that is. 

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But it also matters that 23 of the cabinet’s 31 members went to private school (compared with 7 per cent of the population), that it includes at least six landlords when the country is facing a housing (and specifically a rental) crisis, and that the vast majority of top jobs have gone to MPs from the same wing of the Tory free-market right as Truss herself. It matters because of the message it sends to the country: your gender and the colour of your skin will be no barrier to your success as long as you went to the right school and have the right views and aren’t going to cause any trouble. Would the right (or the media) ever let Labour get away with that? Can a chancellor and business secretary who both went to Eton really be heralded as progressive, just because one of them happens to be black? 

And it matters because Britain is facing existential crises on multiple fronts – energy bills, inflation, the NHS, climate change – and the government cannot afford to succumb to groupthink. A cabinet of yes-men and -women, picked for their loyalty and agreement with the Truss line, will be far less likely to voice the tough questions and innovative ideas needed to tackle this period of impending catastrophe. Never has there been more of a need for heterodoxy, that word beloved of anti-woke thinkers usually found defending academic freedom. Never has ideological diversity – something Goodwin and his supporters rightly champion – been more vital to ensuring we come up with the right solutions to such daunting challenges. And yet, Truss has selected a cabinet of people that overwhelmingly think like her. 

This isn’t about suggesting that people from ethnic minority backgrounds are required to hold certain political views. Suella Braverman is entitled to take a hard-line stance against immigration, even if her parents are of Indian origin and came to the UK from Africa; if Kemi Badenoch, born to Nigerians and raised in Lagos, really doesn’t think institutional racism is much of an issue in the UK, that’s her prerogative. But the anti-woke brigade are forever railing against the ideological hegemony at the top of the UK’s political, academic and cultural institutions. Visible diversity, they argue, is too often used as a smokescreen to hide a worrying lack of diversity of thought.  

It’s a shame such noble principles about the value of robust debate go out the window as soon as the jobs are being handed out by someone they agree with.

[See also: Spin to win your energy bills? We’re living in a Black Mirror dystopia]  

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