Who is Kwasi Kwarteng and why is he quitting British politics?

Kwasi Kwarteng, former UK chancellor of the exchequer, at an interview in London, UK, on Tuesday, January 30, 2024 [Hollie Adams/Bloomberg via Getty Images]

The Conservative MP is best known for the financial chaos he unleashed during 38 days as chancellor of the exchequer.

This week, controversial UK Conservative Member of Parliament Kwasi Kwarteng announced his decision to step down from politics and will not be standing at the next general election which has to take place by January 28, 2025, but could be held this year.

Kwarteng, 48, has served as the member of Parliament for Spelthorne, Surrey, since 2010 and has also held senior cabinet positions in government. He is likely to be best remembered for the financial chaos he unleashed during his 38 days as chancellor of the exchequer in 2022.

“Yesterday I informed my Association Chair of my decision …” he wrote on X. “It has been an honour to serve the residents of Spelthorne since 2010, and I shall continue to do so for the remainder of my time in Parliament.”

His post sparked a mixture of taunts and criticism from commentators and left-wing legislators, among them satirical congratulations for having managed to “wreck the economy” of a country in less than three weeks.

Who is Kwasi Kwarteng?

Kwarteng’s election to Parliament as a Conservative member for Spelthorne in the 2010 UK general election coincided with his party’s return to power after 13 years of Labour rule.

As then-Conservative Party leader David Cameron became prime minister in a Conservative-led coalition government with the Liberal Democrats, the London-born Kwarteng was just about to turn 35 and his future looked bright.

But other than having been born to highly accomplished immigrant parents from Ghana – his father was an economist and his mother a barrister – Kwarteng arrived in the House of Commons at Westminster with a CV typical of many Conservative politicians.

Indeed, like many of those who have taken high positions in a Conservative government before him, he was educated at the elite private school, Eton College, which he attended on a scholarship, and then at the University of Cambridge. A year as a Kennedy Scholar at Harvard University followed, and then a return to Cambridge where he completed a PhD in economic history in 2000.

Ten years later, and following spells as a financial analyst in the City of London and as a columnist for the right-wing newspaper, The Telegraph, Kwarteng, who has been married to solicitor Harriet Edwards since 2019, was elected to one of the oldest legislatures in the world.

Why was his time as chancellor so short and controversial?

By the time he was picked to be chancellor by then-Prime Minister Liz Truss in September 2022, Kwarteng, the first Black Briton to occupy this lofty office of state, had cut his teeth in other ministerial roles. Under the previous prime minister, Boris Johnson, he was secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy.

However, his time at the helm of the nation’s finances took a disastrous turn when the free-market champion presented a mini-budget to Parliament, which included 45 billion pounds ($56.85bn) of unfunded tax cuts for the rich, sending the financial markets into a meltdown.

Tim Bale, politics professor at Queen Mary University London, recalled that Kwarteng’s plans “crashed the pound, put pension funds under pressure and sent interest rates shooting up, costing anyone with a mortgage far more than before and shredding the Conservatives’ reputation for economic competence”.

As a result, Truss, who had been part of the 2010 Conservative Party intake, sacked her chancellor just 38 days after first appointing him.

Kwarteng’s replacement as chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, reversed most of his predecessor’s mini-budget, but the damage to Truss’s reputation also proved politically fatal. The crisis prompted her to fall on her sword after just 44 days in office, making Truss the shortest-serving prime minister and Kwarteng one of the shortest-serving chancellors in British political history.

Kwasi Kwarteng
Kwasi Kwarteng, then chancellor of exchequer, departs 11 Downing Street to present the UK’s fiscal plans in Parliament, in London, UK, on Friday, September 23, 2022. What he announced ultimately sent the financial markets into freefall and resulted in his sacking [Chris J Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images]

How have people reacted to his decision to step down as an MP?

Kwarteng, likely aware that his announcement on X would prompt many Britons to robustly remind him of his inglorious past as head of the UK Treasury, opted to disable the reply function on his post.

But that did not stop the pile-on elsewhere, with opposition politicians quick to recall Kwarteng’s time as chancellor in 2022.

Jess Phillips, a member of Parliament from the opposition Labour Party, was scathing.

“Kwasi Kwarteng made everyone’s mortgages rise, his tenure as chancellor a dangerous embarrassment,” she wrote on X.

Other Britons on social media were equally mocking, including author Otto English who posted on X: “Kwasi Kwarteng leaves a remarkable legacy. And I have every faith that his achievement will live on for decades to come. After all, not many people can claim to have wrecked the economy of a major economy in under three weeks.”

Is Kwarteng the only Conservative MP to announce he is quitting at the next election?

Far from it. Kwarteng, who, despite it all, remains widely admired for his high intellect, is just one of more than 50 Conservative parliamentarians who have decided to bail out at the next UK general election.

According to Professor Bale, recent opinion polls indicating that the opposition Labour Party will electorally wipe out the Conservatives, have made many of the party’s sitting legislators all too aware of “which way the wind appears to be blowing”.

“Many of them prefer to jump before they’re pushed by their voters – it’s easier on the ego and means they get a head-start in the post-Westminster job market, which is never as big as many assume,” said Bale.

He added, “Opposition in the UK political system is a pretty thankless task – you’ve virtually zero influence on policy and, until you look like winning again, even those journalists who used to take you out for lunch all the time lose interest in anything you have to say.”



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