Kwasi Kwarteng: ultraliberal heading UK Treasury

·3-min read

Britain's new finance minister Kwasi Kwarteng takes on the heavy task of trying to steer the country through a cost-of-living crisis and probable recession.

Kwarteng is a close friend of Liz Truss, who on Monday won the race to become prime minister following the resignation of scandal-hit Boris Johnson.

At 47, Kwarteng is the same age as Truss, and becomes Britain's first black chancellor of the exchequer having served as energy minister under Johnson.

The son of Ghanaian immigrants to Britain in the 1960s, Kwarteng is an ultraliberal, strongly favouring free market economics and the low taxes that Truss has promised to deliver in the early days of her premiership.

The pair will be at the forefront of urgent plans to help millions of Britons suffering under the strain of rocketing energy prices that have pushed UK inflation to a 40-year high above 10 percent.

Details of a cost-of-living support package are expected this week, ahead of an emergency budget which Kwarteng will deliver to parliament.

- 'Committed Thatcherite' -

"There is lots of pressure on Kwasi Kwarteng," said Tony Travers, a professor at the London School of Economics, who described the minister as a "committed Thatcherite" in reference to former leader and free-market proponent Margaret Thatcher.

"He might have started out as believing in a smaller state and a more deregulated economy, but he's living in a world where the public expects almost exactly the opposite," Travers told AFP.

An enthusiastic backer of Brexit, Kwarteng replaces Iraqi-born Nadhim Zahawi, who lasted only two months as chancellor.

Zahawi took over from Rishi Sunak, who resigned as finance minister in opposition to Johnson before then losing out at the final hurdle to become prime minister.

Writing this week in the Financial Times, Kwarteng said there was a need for tax cuts in order to put "money back into people's pockets".

In further comments published by the FT before Truss' victory, he stressed that "Liz is committed to a lean state".

According to Jonathan Portes, professor of economics at King's College London, the proposed tax cuts "benefit mostly the better-off and large companies".

However, media reports suggest that the government could decide to freeze a looming 80-percent hike in UK energy bills, heavily increasing the state's debt pile that already ballooned owing to the Covid pandemic.

- Cricket fan -

As energy minister, Kwarteng drew heavy criticism from green groups after he said Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which threatens oil and gas supplies, meant the UK needed further investment in North Sea drilling.

The son of an economist and lawyer, London-born Kwarteng won a scholarship to the elite British school Eton before attending both the University of Cambridge and Harvard.

He worked as a financial analyst and newspaper columnist before being elected as a Tory MP in 2010.

Kwarteng in 2012 co-authored with Truss and other Tory MPs the book "Britannia Unchained", which described British workers as "among the worst idlers in the world".

A former department colleague, Mark Fletcher, said Kwarteng was "fiercely bright and serious" but also a huge cricket fan.

"If you can explain things to him in a cricket analogy you will always get his attention," he told The Times.

Kwarteng is married to lawyer Harriet Edwards, who gave birth to a daughter last year.

ode/bcp/rfj/phz/pvh