Boris Johnson is facing mounting criticism for creating yet another commission into discrimination when the many recommendations of five recent tax-payer funded Government reports, including that into the Windrush Scandal have not been implemented yet.
And now Boris Johnson’s choice to set up the race inquiry has left many aghast.
Number 10 Policy Unit head Munira Mirza has been charged with setting up the race commission and – crucially – recruiting its members. Yet she has frequently dismissed such efforts to tackle racism.
Evidenced below is her unsuitability for any such role. Unless, as we explain, Number 10 is choosing to stoke up a cynical cultural war to distract from numerous current failings.
There are multiple red flags listed below that should disqualify Munira Mirza from any role in an inquiry about racial inequality as she has sneeringly attacked such endeavours in the past, as well as made her feelings very clear about policies designed to tackle racial inequalities. Yet on Wednesday, the PM defended his close aide, insisting “I am a huge admirer of Dr Munira Mirza, who is a brilliant thinker about these issues, and we are certainly going to proceed with a new cross-governmental commission to look at racism and discrimination.”
Race monitors and opposition MPs have questioned the motives of setting up a new inquiry, when the recommendations of so many such reports commissioned by the Conservative Government have been ignored.
The 35 recommendations of David Lammy’s 2017 report at the behest of David Cameron into discrimination by the criminal justice system are yet to be implemented. As are the 110 recommendations of Dame Elish Angiolini’s inquiry into deaths and serious incidents in police custody which also reported in 2017. Or the 26 recommendations in Baroness McGregor-Smith’s Review into racial disparities in the workplace that year. Or indeed Theresa May’s race disparity audit of 2017 which found “uncomfortable truths” when it came to education, healthcare, work and justice. Or the recommendations of the Windrush Lessons Learned report which recommended a full review of the “Hostile Environment” immigration policy. Or indeed the suppressed report into disproportionate Covid-19 deaths in the UK’s BAME communities.
With so much work identified by these tax-payer funded reports yet to be done, many are questioning whether a new inquiry is an attempt to kick genuine measures to tackle discrimination further into the long grass again.
Is Boris Johnson trolling Black Lives Matters?
Before Johnson’s commission has even started it is looking like a whitewash as the inquiry is being set up by someone who as extensively evidenced below has expressed repeated skepticism about all these recent inquiries and continuously poured scorn on tackling “institutional racism” and dismissed the efforts of “anti-racists” as a “culture of grievance.”
You couldn’t make up a choice more likely to troll the Black Lives Matter movement than Munira Mirza.
“A new race equalities commission led by Munira Mirza is dead on arrival. She has never believed in institutional racism,” warned Labour MP Diane Abbott.
So what does Johnson’s close adviser actually believe in?
Number 10 Policy Unit head Munira Mirza has long expressed skepticism about multiculturalism and those fighting racism.
The Brexit champion has long been involved in libertarian and Eurosceptic politics.
Mirza sat on the notorious Manifesto Club’s steering committee together with fellow founding member Brendan O’Neill.
The libertarian free speech group opposed too much vetting of adults who come into regular contact with children, in particular laws introduced after the Soham murders to protect children from paedophiles.
The Manifesto Club also insisted universities give a platform to far-right speakers, including supporting the Oxford Union for inviting Holocaust denier David Irving and BNP leader Nick Griffin to speak.
Supporting platforms for Holocaust and climate deniers
Munira Mirza was part of the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) – whose members have gone on to have links with various bodies pushing for a hard Brexit – and contributed to its magazine Living Marxism before it lost a libel case to ITN over its reporting of the Bosnian genocide.
Like Claire Fox (whose Culture Wars publication Mirza also wrote for) and Brendan O’Neill, she has also contributed to the Spiked website that replaced Living Marxism, a controversial publication revealed to be supported by right wing global warming denial backers and fossil fuels profiteers the Koch Brothers.
As well as attacking environmental concerns, multiculturalism, political correctness, the left, lockdown measures to tackle Covid-19 and Black Lives Matter predictably, Spiked Online defends figures on the far right such as Katie Hopkins, Alex Jones, the Democratic Football Lads’ Alliance, Tommy Robinson, Arron Banks, Viktor Orbán and Conservative religious attacks on school lessons against homophobia.
“Stop pandering to Muslims”
Munira Mirza’s articles on Spiked Online ring alarm bells too. They include “Stop pandering to Muslims” – in which she mocked the Charity Commission’s faith unit tackling extremism in Britain’s Muslim communities by helping “moderate Muslims” strengthen governance and leadership in mosques.
Attacking multiculturalism and the Macpherson Report
In “What now for the M-Word” Munira Mirza attacked multiculturalism, accusing the last Labour government of “colourful emphasis on Britain’s diversity… an attempt to rebrand British identity around ‘tolerance’… a strategic tactic to win new alliances with ethnic and cultural groups.” The piece also slams the findings of institutional racism by the Macpherson Report into the Stephen Lawrence murder inquiry, complaining “the police have been transformed from being nasty, racist bully-boys who arrested people on a whim, into oversensitive, race-aware bully-boys who still arrest people on a whim.”
“We’re creating a hierarchy of victimhood” is another of critique of recent anti-discrimination legislation and the Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR) itself.
And in “Diversity is divisive” Mirza bemoaned multiculturalism and what she disparaged as the “race relations industry .
“Trying to wage a culture war”
And perhaps most worryingly, given her new role, Mirza’s Spiked opinion piece “Lammy review: the myth of institutional racism” panned the government-commissioned inquiry which found BAME men disproportionately incarcerated. In it she attacked “the current accusations of institutional racism by lobbyists and activists – a perception more than a reality.”
David Lammy who had led the inquiry, expressed his shock at Mirza’s appointment on Tuesday: “This further undermines Boris Johnson’s race commission,” he explained.
“My review was welcomed by all parties: Corbyn, Cameron and May. But Munira Mirza went out of her way to attack it.
“Johnson isn’t listening to #BlackLivesMatter. He’s trying to wage a culture war.”
“Exaggerating the problem of racism”
Munira Mirza also criticized the Lammy Report in The Sun in 2017, insisting it was an example of “how anti-racism is becoming weaponised across the political spectrum — how a lot of people in politics think it’s a good idea to exaggerate the problem of racism.”
In the article she also poured scorn on Theresa May’s audit into racial disparities in public services.
Referring to the 1981 Scarman Report after the Brixton riots and the1999 Macpherson Report which found the investigation into the murder of black teen Stephen Lawrence was hampered by police incompetence and institutional racism, Mirza added: “anti-racism groups are excited at the prospect of a new Macpherson or Scarman moment that will pave the way for fresh laws and more public funding for them. And the Labour Party believe the more everyone obsesses about race, the more they stand to gain.”
She used the platform to warn about “appeasing the anti-racism lobby and affirming its culture of grievance.”
“Phoney race war”
Intent on further panning Theresa May’s audit of discrimination in public services as well as Lady McGregor-Smith’s report into BAME employment, she also penned a September 2017 article entitled “Theresa May’s phoney race war is dangerous and divisive” in The Spectator.
Mirza said both reports commissioned by the Conservative government were “wrongheaded thinking about race”. Of May’s feted racial equality audit, she sneered: “unnamed Whitehall insiders say that they have been ‘shocked’ by the picture it reveals of racial discrimination in the UK. All this suggests the scene is being set for another bout of political self-flagellation regarding the subject of race in Britain.” Again she scorned “the anti-racism lobby” and its “culture of grievance.”
“Neutralising Boris Johnson’s racism”
Such public attacks on inquiries into racism, anti-discrimination policies, the Commission for Equality and Human Rights, anti-racists and the very concept of “institutional racism” betray more than enough bias to disqualify Boris Johnson’s close aide from setting up his new inquiry into racial inequality.
But as a fawning profile of Munira Mirza by Andrew Gimson in Conservative Home points out there is “an affinity” between Boris Johnson and his trusted aide – both as London Mayor and now as Prime Minister. She shares “in the words of a senior minister, “A wonderful, waspish sense of humour which is attuned to the Prime Minister’s.”
When she took up her £80,000-a-year post as London Mayor Boris Johnson’s Deputy for arts and culture in 2008, the Evening Standard noted “Ms Mirza’s appointment was seen by many as an attempt to neutralise accusations that Mr Johnson has used racist language in the past, especially as he seeks to slash grants to ethnic groups.”
On election as London Mayor Boris Johnson had appointed Nick Boles as his Chief of Staff. Munira Mirza had come to Boles’ attention at the right-wing Policy Exchange founded in 2002 by Boles, Michael Gove and Francis Maude with a piece of work called “Living Apart Together: British Muslims and the paradox of multiculturalism” in which she concluded: “Paradoxically, Government policies to improve engagement with Muslims makes things worse.”
Mirza, a long-term critic of both multiculturalism and of state support for the arts, would assist Mayor Johnson with reactionary policies while giving apparently progressive justifications.
Defending Boris Johnson’s burka jibes
Born in Oldham to Muslim Pakistani parents, Mirza, perhaps by now used to mopping up his bigoted musings, leapt to Boris Johnson’s defence, when years later, in 2018 he wrote a disparaging article mocking “ridiculous” Muslim women wearing burkas as “letter boxes” and “bank robbers” in the Telegraph.
Despite calls for an apology from Johnson, warnings about Islamophobia from former Conservative chair Baroness Warsi and a spike in attacks on Muslim women that followed, Mirza rationalised Johnson’s words in print and on the airwaves.
“He sees that the burka is a recent cultural accretion, which has been championed by extremists in many countries around the world and is actively opposed by moderate Muslims. That some women in the West freely choose to wear it doesn’t make it any more palatable,” she wrote in Conservative Home.
The Windrush lesson is “improved immigration enforcement”
In 2018, Mirza also accused Johnson’s Conservative colleague then universities minister, Sam Gyimah, of “a cynical game of hot potato” after he criticised top universities for failing to admit more black students.
This is a refrain Munira Mirza and her colleagues at Spiked have continued to push for decades, – one denigrating the importance of racism, sneering at anti-racists and policies to combat racism, mocking the very concepts of multiculturalism and “institutional racism,” as if it would go away if we stop talking about it.
In 2018 she even dismissed racism as a factor in the Windrush Scandal in a mocking blog “Weaponising Victimhood,” suggesting that “the real lesson is not one of racism, as in the deliberate targeting of ethnic minority groups, rather it is that the process of immigration enforcement needs to be improved.”
Mirza insisted: “the Government’s attempt to impose a hostile environment on illegal immigrants inadvertently caught a small group of older people of Caribbean heritage.”
“A culture war to distract from the central issue”
Boris Johnson announced the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities on Monday with a remit to look at racial inequality across British society after a backlash. Johnson had outraged many by moaning about a “sense of” victimisation and discrimination in the Black Lives Matter movement.
Such language is a chilling echo of his policy adviser’s writings.
The Prime Minister was forced to later admit that racism “unquestionably” existed in the UK.
After a fortnight of Black Lives Matter protests across the UK, triggered by the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota, Boris Johnson first let slip news of the new inequality inquiry in a controversial Telegraph diatribe which mainly concentrated on defending Winston Churchill’s statue – despite no official calls to remove it, declaring we “cannot Photoshop its history” and reframing the main story of the Black Lives Matter movement as a defence of the statue somehow, pledging to resist attempts to remove the statue with “every breath in my body”.
Many, including David Lammy accused the PM of stoking a cultural war and focusing on statues as a distraction from recent failings.
The shadow justice secretary told the BBC that Boris Johnson’s inquiry appeared to have been “written on the back of a fag packet yesterday to assuage the Black Lives Matter protest.”
He said “It is deeply worrying – and frankly immature – that Britain is still having a conversation about whether racism actually exists.”
“And, frankly, when you watch a man die like we did in eight minutes and 46 seconds – I’d like to ask Boris Johnson why he thinks the way to commemorate his death is to announce yet another commission, and why he insists on talking about statues.
“The Labour Party isn’t talking about statues, the Lib Dems aren’t calling for Winston Churchill’s statue to be removed, neither are the Greens.
“The only person that wants to focus on Winston Churchill’s statue is the Conservative Party and, frankly, it is bizarre.
“They want a culture war because they want to distract from the central issue. Implement the reviews: do something, change it, you’re in power, you’ve been in power for a decade.”
Lammy’s analysis was backed up by The Financial Times which reported Johnson’s inner circle pushing him to declare a “war on woke” to shore up the Tory base.
Disturbingly, the paper also reported a senior government insider who said that Munira Mirza “who is known to have strident views, had influenced the prime minister’s thinking on the cultural war.”
A Number 10 spokesperson said the commission will be chaired by an “independent figure” yet to be announced, and that “Munira is the prime minister’s head of policy, so you would expect her to be involved in setting this up.”