A deep dive into the unseasoned stew of Boris Johnson’s crusty cabinet

Illustration by Mariel No

Today, Boris Johnson has compiled a new cabinet of largely hard-right elite neo-imperial racists who, variously, have infected the UK curriculum with nationalist “British values” ideology, conducted shady deals to funnel aid money to the Israeli army, and want to bring back hanging (and that’s mainly the incoming Home Secretary Priti Patel). This rag-tag bunch of dead-eyed capitalists are a perfect illustration of why mere “representation” and “equality” as an aspiration is a red herring. Simply sprinkling a few diverse crumbs on top of an unseasoned casserole of cash-grabbing political careerists doesn’t change the bland substance and structure of the dish. 

Just because a person inhabits a marginalised identity along one axis such as gender, race, or sexuality doesn’t mean that their politics aren’t utterly dead. Theresa May was a perfect case in point; being a woman and alleged “feminist” didn’t stop her from locking up women of colour and survivors of violence in immigration detention, deporting Caribbean elders, constructing a hostile environment for marginalised migrant communities, and green-lighting the roll-out of Universal Credit – a botched benefit system which has driven thousands into poverty. Equality alone does not beget justice for all. As writer Reni Eddo-Lodge told crowds at a talk exploring resistance to the rise of hate at Glastonbury festival this year: “Equal to who? I don’t want to be equal to someone who has always had more than their fair share of the pie. Actually I want to take their power”.

With this in mind, as we shift into the next chapter of what feels like a runaway train careering towards the apocalypse (thanks Mercury Retrograde), two questions emerge: who are the dusty relics making up Boris Johnson’s cabinet, and what’s the damage?

The first person making headlines inside Boris’ cabinet of curiosities is new Home Secretary Priti Patel. Priti is most likely to be found on the House of Commons terrace rubbing shoulders with highly questionable characters such as Gilad Erdan, Israeli Public Security Minister who this week gave the go-ahead for the demolition of Palestinian houses in a village in East Jerusalem. The rest of her CV continues along a similarly alarming vein: Priti is a former PR consultant who helped British American Tobacco manage their public image when it emerged that the company had been paying workers a pitiful £15 a month in their Burma factory while also funding the military dictatorship in the country.

“Sajid Javid, a man so desperate to be accepted into the clammy embrace of white supremacy that he takes every opportunity to throw people of colour under the bus”

Alongside Priti is new chancellor Sajid Javid, a man so desperate to be accepted into the clammy embrace of white supremacy that he takes every opportunity to throw people of colour and migrant communities under the bus (and doesn’t he love a bus). As Yasmin Begum comprehensively outlined on gal-dem, in 2016, Sajid claimed migrant communities need to integrate and supported calls for migrants to swear an oath of allegiance to British values; in 2017 he demanded an open debate on the “racial motivation” behind child grooming, and last year he lamented high numbers of Pakistani and Bangladeshi women in Britain who speak “no English or hardly any”. Considering that since 2011, Sajid has voted 15 times to reduce housing benefit, and 15 times against raising benefits for disabled people facing unemployment, we should be very concerned that in his role of chancellor he is now in control of public spending.

Next up in the little cabinet of horrors is Michael Gove, the person responsible for attempting to trash the UK’s education system through privatisation and bizarre curriculum re-writes. Michael’s “free schools” system introduced independent free schools which operate outside of the control of local authorities, can employ teachers who aren’t qualified, and don’t have to teach the national curriculum. The outcome of this, according to the National Union of Teachers (NUT) is that free schools with minimal oversight and low intakes of pupils on free school meals (meaning a child whose household’s annual income is less than £16,000) are being “imposed on local communities without their input or consent”. 

“Boris’ installation of Michael Gove in this essentially pointless role may well be payback for snaking him in the 2016 leadership contest”

Michael’s new appointment as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (apparently an actual job title and not a character from Gormenghast) is akin to giving a small child the “important task” of scattering chocolate chips in the cookie batter. The role is an ancient position with some nominal duties, including generally advising the Prime Minister on government policy and in its current incarnation overseeing some Brexit pen-pushing. Boris’ installation of Michael in this essentially pointless role may well be payback for snaking him in the 2016 leadership contest. Interestingly, a series of Freedom of Information Act requests made in 2012 attempting to establish the exact duties of this job were soundly rejected by the cabinet office.

Stepping into the post of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Secretary is former city banker Andrea Leadsom, who kicked off her parliamentary career by asking the question on the lips of literally nobody: “is climate change real?” Whilst Leadsom has since shifted from this position, in 2015 she also claimed that women object to fracking (an aggressive and environmentally destructive form of gas and oil extraction) because they “don’t understand” the process. Alongside Andrea in the cabinet is the architect of the Windrush scandal Amber Rudd, on a dazzling comeback tour in her role as work and pensions secretary. In 2018, Amber brazenly told the House of Commons that she had no knowledge of deportation targets, a claim later undermined by a leaked Home Office memo sent to her which bragged about exceeding the target. More recently, earlier this month Amber performed a dramatic U-turn on Brexit. Despite previously backing a referendum to prevent crashing out of the EU with zero plan, Amber has now decided to support Boris’ Brexit bonanza, remarking that she would “no longer lie in front of bulldozers” to prevent a no-deal. 

“Matt Hancock is mainly known for his careerist manoeuvres, being the first MP to launch an app, and not much else”

The perhaps less well-known names rising to the fore through Boris’ cabinet include Health Secretary Matt Hancock, former chief of staff to George Osborne. As Chancellor of the Exchequer George masterminded “austerity”: a series of aggressive public spending cuts which meant dramatic slashes to net income for people surviving on the smallest amounts of money in order to repair the damage caused by reckless bank lending. George’s emphatic support for Matt (including his participation in a WhatsApp group named “Make Matt Hancock Great Again”) is therefore not a particularly reassuring accolade. Matt is mainly known for his careerist manoeuvres, being the first MP to launch an app, and not much else. His app is a social network for his constituents which enables users to chat with…other fans of the Matt Hancock app. A Guardian shallow-dive into what on first look appears to be a flagrant waste of money and time revealed that “most of the users are political journalists, people trolling Matt Hancock, or both”.

Moving swiftly on, also in the cabinet is Brexiteer Liz Truss as international trade secretary. Liz, a former commercial manager at Shell, has a voting record which leaves much to be desired. She has consistently supported the use of UK military forces in overseas operations, since 2015 has voted eight times for a stricter asylum system, and in 2016 voted against investigations into the Iraq War. On a more comical note, in a speech which may have perplexed cartographers globally, during leadership hustings Liz claimed that Boris Johnson had “put London on the map” in his role as Mayor. Liz, a down-with-the-kids flag-bearer for what she genuinely once referred to as the “Tory revolution” is also a keen proponent of the gig economy. At a 2018 report launch on the topic, Liz described herself as an “Uber-riding, Deliveroo-eating, Airbnb-ing freedom fighter”. Uber drivers’ union UPHI hit back at her comments, remarking: “it remains unclear exactly which freedoms Liz is fighting for – is it the right to domicile offshore to shelter from tax and employment law, the right to deny UK worker’s their statutory rights including the right to earn at least the minimum wage?”

The rest of the cabinet is fleshed out with a hode-podge of career-climbing hopefuls including: anti-choice Latin-tweeting Thatcherite Jacob Rees-Mogg (more on him here) as Leader of the House of Commons, and food bank apologist Esther McVey as Housing Minister, still dining out on her disastrous rollout of Universal Credit which has left swathes of claimants in debt. Jacob and Esther are joined by two army captains and a lieutenant, one descendant of a royal mistress to King Charles II, and one card-carrying self-avowed anti-feminist

“Outside of the elite Tory club, real work is being done to address the ‘burning injustices’ Theresa May shelved for a rainy day”

In the face of a cabinet so dusty and aggravating that budget may need to be secured for antihistamines, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with a deep sense of melancholia. However, outside of the elite Tory club, real work is being done to address the “burning injustices” Theresa May shelved for a rainy day whilst skipping through fields of wheat. In the Labour Party, Dawn Butler MP, who slammed the conservative government for being “weak, uncaring and institutionally racist” is pushing for paid leave for survivors of domestic violence and consistently holds the government to account on violence against women, the Windrush scandal, and the failure of Universal Credit. Speaking on a podcast at UK Black Pride, she called foot-dragging over trans rights and much-needed reform of the Gender Recognition Act a “f**king disgrace”. 

Dawn’s colleagues include Marsha de Cordova MP, who laid bare the damage caused by George Obsorne’s changes to Disability Living Allowance which resulted in support being cut for hundreds of thousands of people. David Lammy MP’s monumental speeches on the Windrush scandal, against Brexit, condemnation of cost-cutting which led to the Grenfell Tower Fire, plus a landmark review of racial bias in the prison system have showed him to be a politician willing to actually do his job and hold the line in the face of the government’s disregard for the humanity of working class communities.

Outside of party politics, grassroots groups including Docs not Cops, the Anti-Raids Network, Against Borders for Children and more are fighting to deconstruct the hostile environment brick-by-brick. Groups including the London Campaign Against Police and State Violence (LCAPSV), the United Friends and Families Campaign and the Empty Cages Collective are pushing back against state violence and police brutality, whilst Sisters Uncut, Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and Focus E15, are resisting government cuts to public services, which hit marginalised people the hardest. The radical work of these groups is so crucial because we cannot rely on parliamentary politics to deliver justice. As Reni Eddo-Lodge inferred in her talk last month: real liberation will involve seizing fistfuls of power and resources from people and structures that hope they can throw us a few diversity dimes to keep quiet. Boris Johnson’s new ivory tower of pale stale puppets to the machine are a continuation of business as usual. What remains now is the question of how we continue to organise together to chip away at the edifice. 

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