On October 24th, we had the privilege of being welcomed through one of the most recognisable front doors in modern history, 10 Downing Street.
We were taken through the official residence of the Prime Minister and up the main staircase where photographs of all past Prime Ministers (pending Theresa May) hung on the walls. The masterclass was held in one of the prestigious drawing rooms of No. 10, which hosted portraits of Queen Elizabeth I over the fireplace as well as other iconic British historical figures such as Ada Lovelace, creator of the first computer programme, and playwright William Shakespeare, as well as iconic artefacts such as the 2012 Olympic torch.
For this Masterclass we were lucky to learn from two individuals. First, we were hosted by Private Secretary for Economic Affairs, Lorna Gratton who, before entering Downing St, began her career as a Maths teacher. She later joined the Civil Service as part of the Treasury where she successfully progressed in her department to become Head of Domestic Energy Policy. The Private Secretary decided to apply her skills in management in the private sector, working as a Project Leader at the Bostin Consulting Group before later then returning to the Civil Service as Private Secretary to the Prime Minister.
It is always refreshing to hear and learn about the experiences of highly accomplished and influential women. The Private Secretary spoke with great enthusiasm about her role at No. 10, sharing her unique experience as having worked for 3 different administrations in the short time she has been there. She also shared the difficulties and barriers she faced, navigating her way as a woman in such a high-level role. As Private Secretary, Lorna Gratton is not affiliated with a political party or ideology as a civil servant. Instead, she advises the Prime Minister based on un-biased, factual, evidenced-based information and expert knowledge. Being a Private Secretary in the era of Brexit is therefore, a high pressure environment and there is an expectation to be ready at all times to answer questions with the most up-to-date factual information. It was interested to learn that Private Secretaries can be quite instrumental in the formation of policy ideas. It was eye-opening to recognise the many ways we are able to positively influence and participate in governmental affairs outside of Westminster.
We then had the opportunity to speak with Special Advisor to the Prime Minister on Youth and BAME Communities, Samuel Kasumu. Mr Kasumu has led a successful career as a social entrepreneur and community champion as well as a published author of his book ‘Winning the Race’. As a leader to many individuals and advocate for BAME youths, Mr Kasumu often asks ‘who is in the room?’ to ensure that those in crucial meetings with the Prime Minister, reflect the multicultural population of the UK in which these decisions effect the most. Most recently, Mr Kasumu helped facilitate a reception for Black History Month which celebrated the best of black British culture.
Although we currently have the most diverse cabinet in Britain’s history, there are still bigger strides to take before we reach true representation and diversity in the nation’s most influential institutions. It was therefore, a privilege to meet both Private Secretary, Lorna Gratton and Special Advisor, Samuel Kasumu who demonstrate to aspiring young leaders who are traditionally underrepresented, that democracy is accessible to anyone.
Written by Isra Ahmed