Who is Kwasi Kwarteng? The new chancellor who has been unafraid of upsetting his party

·5-min read

When a new prime minister heads into Downing Street, it is the appointment of his or her chancellor that is most eagerly awaited.

But there was little secret made of who was going to get the top Treasury job under Prime Minister Liz Truss - her long-time friend and political ally Kwasi Kwarteng.

And he was named among the new PM's first key appointments as she began to form her new cabinet.

So how did the Tory MP make his way to one of the most powerful jobs in the country?

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Akwasi Addo Alfred Kwarteng was born in Waltham Forest, east London, in 1975 to father Alfred and mother Charlotte.

The couple had emigrated from Ghana to the UK as students in the 1960s, and went on to become an economist and barrister respectively.

An only child, Mr Kwarteng started off in a state primary, but at the age of eight, he was sent away by his parents to attend the independent prep school Colet Court.

He was a high achiever, being awarded the Harrow History Prize in 1988 - a prize George Orwell once missed out on - and soon he headed to Eton College as a King's Scholar, meaning he was awarded a scholarship due to his impressive exam results.

Mr Kwarteng's academic prowess grew, winning Eton's prestigious Newcastle Scholarship - the best performer in a week-long set of written exams - and his next step was Cambridge, after an interview of course.

Reports claim that when a young tutor ended the questioning by saying it was his first time interviewing entrance candidates, a somewhat self-confident Mr Kwarteng replied: "Oh, don't worry, sir, you did fine."

He went on to get a first class degree in classics and history at Trinity College, as well as being a member of its winning University Challenge team - although dropping an F-bomb during the show got him in a little hot water and on the front-page of The Sun.

But while he continued to excel, winning medals in Latin and Greek poetry competitions, and moved in circles with Conservative thinkers, it was academia rather than politics on his mind at this stage.

Mr Kwarteng headed out to Harvard University in the US on yet another scholarship, before returning to Cambridge to study for a doctorate in economic history.

However, his first career was as a journalist, writing columns for the Daily Telegraph, before being attracted by the city and holding financial analyst jobs at the likes of JP Morgan.

Come 2005, Mr Kwarteng's sights were set on Parliament, but it rarely goes right the first time.

He ran for the seat of Brent East in the general election, but came in third behind the winning Liberal Democrat and second place Labour.

By this point though, politics was the goal, and between 2005 and 2006, he chaired one of the oldest think tanks in the UK, the Bow Group, following in the footsteps of Geoffrey Howe and Michael Howard.

He also made the Conservative list of candidates for the London Assembly in 2008, but didn't manage to secure a place - with the Tories only taking three seats and him placing in sixth.

In 2010, he got his next chance and ran for the seat of Spelthorne in Surrey - after the incumbent MP retired from Parliament following a scandal over expenses.

He comfortably took it with a 22,000 majority, and his parliamentary journey began.

Mr Kwarteng became a member of both the work and pensions committee, and the transport committee.

However, being an MP did not stop his other pursuits, and in 2011 he had three books published in the space of a month - including a book on the legacy of the British Empire, "Ghosts of Empire".

It was the book he contributed to in 2012, however, alongside Ms Truss, Dominic Raab and Priti Patel that has now become the most infamous.

Called "Britannia Unchained", it labelled the British as "among the worst idlers in the world", and it is often used as a battering ram by Labour's Sir Keir Starmer, who says it shows the authors are out of touch.

Mr Kwarteng has long been unafraid of causing upset in the Commons though.

Despite winning his seat on a David Cameron/George Osborne ticket, he upset his bosses by advocating cutting the VAT rate to 15% by adding the charge to children's clothes and food, and also criticised the chancellor's Help to Buy housing scheme as inflationary.

This may have kept him on the backbenches, but it gave him time to get some more books under his belt, and come 2015, he upped his majority at the election and prepared himself for the Brexit battle ahead.

Mr Kwarteng was a passionate advocate for leaving the EU and joined the campaign. After its success, he was rewarded with the start of a ministerial career consisting of junior roles, first at the Treasury and then at the Brexit department.

He never joined the mass resignations during Theresa May's tenure over her Brexit plan.

But it was his backing for Boris Johnson to become leader of the Conservative Party that ensured his promotion to business minister in 2019, and then to secretary of state for the department in January 2021.

This speedy rise up the ranks hasn't stopped Mr Kwarteng causing controversy, however.

There are multiple reports of him clashing with the Treasury, he vocally backed Owen Paterson during the lobbying scandal that engulfed the former MP, and he has come in for criticism for defending visiting foreign autocratic regimes, saying it was better than "shouting from the sidelines".

But his close friendship with Ms Truss - with the pair even becoming neighbours on the same street in Greenwich - has secured him a spot not only in the Treasury, but in history as the first black chancellor of the UK.