Old and New Converge in Rising British Conservative

Estelle Shirbon, Reuters, March 12, 2010

A son of Ghanaian immigrants who was educated at Eton, Britain’s most exclusive private school, parliamentary candidate Kwasi Kwarteng embodies both change and continuity in the Conservative Party.

An admirer of Margaret Thatcher, who as prime minister in the 1980s transformed Britain through free-market reforms, Kwarteng espouses the long-standing Conservative ideals of low taxes, a small state, strong defense and robust law and order.

At 34, he is also typical of a new generation who are far more comfortable than older Conservatives were about things like gender equality, gay rights and a multi-ethnic society.

“People from whatever background must feel they can have a home in the Conservative Party,” he told Reuters in an interview at the party’s office in the London suburb of Staines, speaking in the clipped accent of the British upper classes.

As candidate for Spelthorne, a commuter area south-west of London including Staines, he is one of what is expected to be the largest new intake of Conservative members of parliament (MPs) since 1931 if the party wins an election expected on May 6.

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David Cameron, the youthful Conservative leader who will become prime minister if his party wins, has tried since he took over in 2005 to bring in more women and people from ethnic minorities in an effort to broaden the party’s appeal.

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Asked about the issue of diversity in his party, [Kwarteng] described the low number of women and people from minorities among Conservative MPs as “a grotesque imbalance” and praised Cameron for tackling the issue head-on.

But he did not wish to be pigeon-holed as a champion of ethnic minorities and made clear that was not his main cause.

He said the local party activists in Spelthorne who selected him as candidate over five others may have wanted “something slightly different,” but that was only part of the story.

“The whole ethnic thing, I don’t think it was really a big issue. In a way it helped me that I was very visible, memorable,” he said, attributing his success mainly to the fact that his presentation had made the activists laugh.

It is not hard to see why Kwarteng was selected. A confident orator, he has a masters from Harvard and a doctorate from Cambridge, eight years’ experience in financial services in the City of London, and a history book soon to be published.

In fact, Kwarteng’s stellar CV reveals that the change he represents is limited. He may stand out somewhat in a party that has had only three non-white MPs since World War Two, but his educational and professional background is much less unusual.

One of the accusations frequently leveled at the Conservative Party is that it is a bastion of privilege. Critics cite the fact that 60 percent of Conservative MPs were privately educated, compared with 18 percent of Labor MPs. In the population as a whole, the proportion is less than 10 percent.

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kwasi.jpg
Kwasi Kwarteng.

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