In last week’s column which was written mid-week, I wrote that Liz Truss, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (UK), was “looking vulnerable and there is a sense that she may not be able to hold on to office for much longer.”
Such is the volatile nature of British politics at the moment that by the end of last week, even before the column was published, Truss had tendered her resignation.
Prior to Truss’ resignation, she had already either sacked or accepted the resignation of two of her Ministers – Kwasi Kwarteng, the former Finance Minister, and Suella Braverman, the former Home Secretary, respectively. Kwarteng is a black British man. Both Braverman and Truss are women, and Braverman in particular, is a British woman of Indian ancestry.
Strictly on the basis of their performance or lack thereof, one can argue that each of the three of Truss, Kwarteng and Braverman deserved the sack. Kwarteng presented a mini budget, backed by Truss, which caused public uproar and tanked markets, including the British Pound. Truss failed to inspire confidence and could not explain away the mini budget presented by her finance minister. Meanwhile, Braverman said that her departure was due to an honest mistake by sharing an official document from her personal email address with a colleague in Parliament, an action deemed to have breached the Ministerial Code.
Even if one can reasonably explain away the departures of Truss, Braverman and Kwarteng, one also cannot help but wonder whether gender and race played a role in their demise. Around the world, women are generally under-represented in politics. In countries which are predominantly white, so-called ethnic minorities are also vastly under-represented. The election of Barack Obama to the presidency of the United States (US) and more recently, Rishi Sunak’s elevation to lead the UK, ought to be seen as anomalies.
Barack Obama had to endure some of the most vicious onslaughts, both politically and personally, including suggestions that he was not a born American.
Interestingly, both him and Sunak have something in common – Obama came into office in the aftermath of the chaotic Bush 43 presidency, while Sunak is similarly coming to office in the midst of chaos in British politics.
During his time in office as UK Prime Minister (and before), Boris Johnson, and some in his inner circle, were plagued with scandals. There were allegations of parties during strict COVID-19 lockdowns, alleged shady financial dealings, allegations of affairs with benefits and more. Yet, Johnson survived until one scandal too many forced him to resign.
In the United States, former President Donald Trump also survived a series of scandals before office, in office and after office. Before assuming office, tapes were leaked,allegedly of Trump, boasting about grabbing women by their private parts. Trump has also been severely scrutinised for his financial dealings. Furthermore, Trump is largely seen as orchestrating a near coup d’état to prevent President Biden’s confirmation.
Despite all this, Trump remains the Republican Party’s standard bearer and is likely to be its candidate in the next elections.
Unlike men in politics and leadership more broadly, women have to show themselves to be many times more competent to get a seat at the table. In predominantly white countries, black women and women of colour have the added complication of having to navigate both gender and race, whilst also having to prove themselves several times over.
Black men and other so-called ethnic minorities must also navigate the race factor for upward mobility.
Were Truss, Kwarteng or Braverman a Caucasian man, I would hazard a guess that each would still be in office, perceived incompetence aside.
That they will go down in history as among the shortest serving in their respective positions probably says more about the kind of society that they live in than it does about them.
Joel K Richards is a Vincentian national living and working in Europe in the field of international trade and development.