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Kwasi Kwarteng, former UK chancellor of the exchequer, departs 11 Downing Street, after stepping down as chancellor, in London, on October 14, 2022. Image Credit: Bloomberg

LONDON: Kwasi Kwarteng became the second shortest-serving British finance minister, paying the price for weeks of UK market tumult prompted by his controversial tax-slashing mini-budget.

His sacking represents a humiliation for the Cambridge- and Harvard-educated former Chancellor of the Exchequer - who as recently as Thursday insisted that he was “not going anywhere”.

Only Iain Macleod, who died just a month after being appointed in June 1970, has had a shorter stint in the role.

Kwarteng’s position became untenable just two weeks after he started on September 6, after the September 23 announcement of sweeping tax cuts without costings spooked currency and bond markets concerned about his mammoth spending commitments.

The Bank of England was forced to make several emergency interventions to stabilise markets in the aftermath.

Liz Truss, who only last month succeeded prime minister following the resignation of scandal-hit Boris Johnson, has already reversed one element of the plan - axing the top tax rate for high-earners.

Truss was voted in by Conservative members on a promise to cut taxes, plans that her rival Rishi Sunak, who was finance minister under Johnson, said were a recipe for disaster in the face of spiralling inflation.

‘Committed Thatcherite’

Kwarteng’s devout belief in liberal economics made him the obvious choice to carry out her plans, despite the warnings.

The pair were also at the forefront of urgent moves to help millions of Britons suffering under the strain of rocketing energy prices that have pushed UK inflation to a 40-year high.

Those spending plans allied with the tax cuts sent sterling plunging to its lowest-ever value against the dollar last month, as critics decried the government’s “KamiKwasi” economics.

Tony Travers, a professor at the London School of Economics, 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 last month as pressure began to mount on Kwarteng.

An enthusiastic backer of Brexit, the 47-year-old Kwarteng replaced Iraqi-born Nadhim Zahawi, who himself lasted only two months in the second most powerful job in British politics after Johnson’s resignation.

Zahawi took over from Sunak, who resigned as finance minister in opposition to Johnson before then losing out to Truss in the contest for 10 Downing Street.

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Image Credit: Bloomberg

Four years before the 2016 Brexit vote, Kwarteng joined with Truss and other Tory right-wingers to write a free-market manifesto called “Britannia Unchained”, which described British workers as “among the worst idlers in the world”.

He enthusiastically endorsed Truss’s plans for a “lean state” and to put “money back into people’s pockets”.

In presenting his doomed budget measures, Kwarteng declared it “a very good day for the UK, because we’ve got a growth plan”.

But disquiet among Tory MPs has only risen before, during and after the party’s fractious annual conference earlier this month, as opinion polls show voters strongly opposed to the budget plan including its tax cuts for the richest.

Surveys have also shown the opposition Labour party opening up a massive lead over the ruling Conservatives.

TV swearing

In a former role as energy minister, Kwarteng drew the ire of green groups after he said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine meant the UK needed further investment in North Sea drilling, to diversify its energy mix.

Britain’s first black chancellor of the exchequer, Kwarteng is the son of an economist and lawyer who emigrated to Britain from Ghana.

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

While at Cambridge, he represented Trinity College on the long-running quiz programme “University Challenge”, earning his first national media exposure for uttering an expletive when he got a question wrong.

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

A former department colleague, Mark Fletcher, said Kwarteng was “fiercely bright and serious” and 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.

Previously in a relationship with senior Tory MP Amber Rudd, Kwarteng is married to lawyer Harriet Edwards, who gave birth to a daughter last year.