Kwasi Kwarteng: the leading light of the Tory right

Kwasi Kwarteng, who studied 17th-century currency policy for his doctoral thesis, has always had a keen interest in economic crises. Now he is in one of his own making

When Kwasi Kwarteng was at the Department for Business, he had the letters MSH put up on the wall. They stood for Make Shit Happen. The question now, as the “shitcoin” (as Redditers dub it) stabilises and an uneasy calm returns to bond markets, is what Kwarteng will make of his second chance. Assuming he gets one.

Some predict he may yet become “the sacrificial lamb” of a grand project gone wrong. “We get it and we have listened,” said the chancellor as he U-turned on the 45p. Behind the breezy façade, he must have been squirming. It’s hard to hear yourself described as the author of the most “kami-Kwasi” budget in Britain’s history.

Admirers have always rated Kwarteng’s “iconoclastic” tendency. But his stellar intellectual pedigree and impatience (he has “the concentration span of a gnat”, according to one former Cabinet minister) often comes across as arrogance, says The Observer. In one round-table discussion with Bill Gates, Kwarteng raised eyebrows by “lecturing” the Microsoft founder on his expert subject.

It was ever thus, says The Times. As a sixth-former applying to Cambridge – where he later gained renown for swearing on University Challenge – Kwarteng famously reassured a rookie interviewer: “Don’t worry, sir, you did fine.” Arguably, it was a fairly typical response from an Etonian.

Indeed, Kwarteng has often drawn comparison with Boris Johnson because of “his alma mater, love of classics and untidy demeanour”. When working as a parliamentary private secretary for Tina Stowell, the former leader of the House of Lords,  (“he’s very affable, quite easy to tease”) she often had to “straighten his tie”.

Kwasi Kwarteng: a stellar and impatient intellect

Kwarteng was born in Waltham Forest, north-east London, in 1975. His parents – an economist and barrister – emigrated from Ghana as students in the 1960s. Their only child inherited their academic talent. Educated at Colet Court (now St Paul’s Junior School), he won a scholarship to Eton, where he was considered “a tough nut” because he “played an almost suicidal position” in the Wall Game “that involved spending much of the match having his head scraped against the brickwork”.

Later, at Trinity College Cambridge, where he switched from classics to history and emerged with a double first, Kwarteng cultivated a “young fogey” image, says a former don. He joined a dining club, the Michael Oakeshott Association, often attended by Tory grandees and society figures and, out of that, got a column on The Daily Telegraph.

It was the start of a “varied” early career, says the Financial Times. Kwarteng worked as a financial analyst in the City for JPMorgan and Odey Asset Management, but found time to write history books – including Ghosts of Empire, a critical study of the British Empire – and chair the Bow Group think tank. He entered parliament in 2010.

By 2012, he had already been singled out by The Guardian as a leading light in “the new Tory right”: a group of young MPs, including Liz Truss and Dominic Raab, who formed the Free Enterprise Group. In their book Britannia Unchained, they tried to “seize the political agenda” with some of the most radical ideas “the party has seen in decades”. It was the start of a close friendship with Truss. They have been described as “Batman and Robin”, on a “holy” mission to shift the economic dial.

One of the chancellor’s chief calling cards as a rising politician was his deep interest in markets, said the FT. Having written a doctoral thesis on “17th-century currency policy” at Cambridge, he had a habit of peppering conversations with historical references to past economic crises. “Now he is in the middle of one of his own making.” In Ghosts of Empire, Kwarteng noted that “much of the instability in the world is a product of… haphazard policymaking”. What a hostage to fortune that has proved.

Recommended

Scottish Mortgage managers reassure investors about its recent poor performance
Investment trusts

Scottish Mortgage managers reassure investors about its recent poor performance

After a spectacular couple of decades, the Scottish Mortgage Investment Trust has fallen by 40% this year. As its managers address shareholder concern…
5 Dec 2022
State pension errors – why tens of thousands of mothers could be missing out on millions in state pension payments
State pensions

State pension errors – why tens of thousands of mothers could be missing out on millions in state pension payments

LCP launches Mothers Missing Millions campaign amid DWP state pension errors.
3 Dec 2022
The top funds to invest in now
Funds

The top funds to invest in now

As market volatility continues, here are the top funds, stocks and investment trusts investors are putting their money into, according to one investme…
2 Dec 2022
The best places to live in the UK – and how much they will cost you
House prices

The best places to live in the UK – and how much they will cost you

Thinking of moving? Here are the best places to live in the UK and how much they will cost if you are buying.
2 Dec 2022

Most Popular

Is it cheaper to leave the heating on low all day?
Personal finance

Is it cheaper to leave the heating on low all day?

The weather is getting colder and energy bills are rising, but is it really cheaper to leave the heating on low all day or should you only turn it on …
1 Dec 2022
Radiator vs electric heater – which is cheaper?
Personal finance

Radiator vs electric heater – which is cheaper?

We compare the costs, pros and cons of radiators and electric heaters and see which one will help keep your energy bill as low as possible.
28 Nov 2022
State pension errors – why tens of thousands of mothers could be missing out on millions in state pension payments
State pensions

State pension errors – why tens of thousands of mothers could be missing out on millions in state pension payments

LCP launches Mothers Missing Millions campaign amid DWP state pension errors.
3 Dec 2022