Boris Johnson may have fallen short of fulfilling his boyhood dream of ‘World King’ but it’s fair to say that he’s come a long way since he zipped across London bearing the Union Jack, his shadow crossing the city in what now seems to be a Simpson-esque moment of foretelling.
Johnson has promised a cabinet that will reflect ‘modern Britain’ (he also pronounced dude as ‘duel’, suggesting elements of his Britain might be more medieval than modern). So after an exciting few hours of resignations, removals and rehabilitations resulting in the ‘biggest cabinet clear out in modern political history’ how representative of modern Britain is Johnson’s cabinet?
The short answer is not very. Johnson’s cabinet is disproportionately male, middle class, able-bodied, heterosexual and cisgender. It is a cabinet made in his own image, not Britain’s image. While it might not be the ‘no deal’ cabinet Remainers feared, it is a microcosmic example of a broader problem. Brexit — its success or failure — is once again prioritised over almost all other social and political issues.
One element of Johnson’s cabinet that is reflective — or at least, reflective of the last census in 2011 — is in its BAME representation. In 2011, 14 per cent of the population in England and Wales gave their ethnicity as BAME. And 18 per cent of Johnson’s cabinet is BAME. Given there was a rise in the BAME population of 8 per cent since 1991, it is likely that this is no longer as well aligned, but it is the most recent data we have.
On gender, Johnson is worse than May, Cameron and Gordon Brown. Only 24 per cent of those attending cabinet are female. Amber Rudd has been given the Women and Equalities brief — but has not been relieved of her old role as Work and Pension Secretary. This does not bode well for the prioritisation of gender equality under a Johnson government and should be ringing more equality alarm bells than it appears to be.
It is disappointing but not surprising that Johnson’s Britain doesn’t account for women and gender inequality. Just as unsurprisingly, the ex-Etonian has recruited from his old playing fields; 64 per cent of the cabinet is privately educated (compared to roughly 7 per cent of the wider population) and 45 per cent attended Oxbridge. Post-Brexit Britain might be short on medicine, but at least we’ll know the Latin for all our ailments.
So the Johnson cabinet is male, privately educated and … straight. Of the 19 openly LGBTQ Conservative MPs, none made the cut for Johnson’s cabinet. David Mundell, the openly gay Scottish Secretary under Theresa May, was replaced by Alister Jack. The limited representation of the LGBTQ+ community in politics is not limited to Johnson’s government. There are no openly transgender MPs in any party, but a cabinet with no LGBTQ+ members is hardly a reflection of modern Britain.
Just as the under-representation of the LGBTQ+ community is a problem that goes beyond the make up of cabinet, the distinct invisibility of disability in politics remains an issue that is frequently brushed under the House of Commons carpet. While of course Johnson cannot be solely blamed for the underrepresentation of minority communities, his cabinet reflects not ‘modern Britain’ but a political elite stuck in the past, tied down by tradition and crippled by prejudice.
The underrepresentation of minorities — and majorities, in the case of women — will do nothing to unite the country. Those who cannot see themselves in government will continue to believe it is not a government that is working for them. Those who believed Johnson would shake things up amongst the political elite — domestically and in Europe — will be sorely disappointed. Johnson and his cabinet are the worst kind of elite, the elite who have kidded themselves into thinking they are not. Johnson’s cabinet is not the Britain I live in, and it is advancing a future of intolerance that I will push against.