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Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Government flunks its own racism inquiry

On a scale of one to ten in which ten is utterly surprising and one is so predictable that it is difficult to work up a yawn over it, the decision by Boris Johnson to ignore the recommendations of three reputable inquiries into racism and equality, and kick the issue into the long grass by setting up his own commission under the auspices of a No 10 adviser, Munira Mirza who has cast doubt on the existence of institutional racism and condemned previous inquiries for fostering a “culture of grievance”, must rate as minus 20.

As the Guardian reports, the Institute of Race Relations is not convinced by Munira Mirza's involvement in setting up the commission:

“Any enquiry into inequality has to acknowledge structural and systemic factors. Munira Mirza’s previous comments describe a ‘grievance culture’ within the anti-racist field and she has previously argued that institutional racism is ‘a perception more than a reality’,” a spokesperson said. “It is difficult to have any confidence in policy recommendations from someone who denies the existence of the very structures that produce the social inequalities experienced by black communities.”

But there are wider problems not least the fact that previous reviews remain on the shelf and some of the proposed members of the commission are controversial in their own right:

It is understood that Mirza has said she hopes to recruit Trevor Phillips as part of the commission. Phillips, a former chair of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, would be a controversial choice, having previously referred to UK Muslims as being “a nation within a nation”.

When Phillips was named as playing a role in a Public Health England inquiry into the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, it prompted condemnation from campaigners.

The revelation of Mirza’s role was met with dismay from experts and MPs. The shadow justice secretary, David Lammy, whose own review on inequalities in the judicial system was criticised by Mirza, tweeted on Monday evening that the appointment “further undermines” Johnson’s race commission.

The Labour MP added: “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.”

In fact Mirza's own record on these issues appears to be a major bone of contention:

Mirza, who is also understood to be leading efforts to recruit commission members, has been an outspoken critic of previous government attempts to tackle structural factors behind racial inequality.

She condemned an audit of racial inequalities in public services commissioned by Theresa May, which No 10 say will form part of the basis of the new commission. Writing for the Spectator in 2017, Mirza said the audit showed how “anti-racism is becoming weaponised across the political spectrum”.

In the same article, Mirza criticised two other reports which Johnson’s government has promised to act on: the one written by Lammy when he was a backbencher, and another on unequal pay among ethnic groups. Mirza said both showed “wrongheaded thinking about race”.

Dawn Butler, a Labour MP and former equalities minister, said Mirza’s role “undermines its credibility from the very outset by appointing someone who stands by Johnson’s racist comments, rejected the Lammy review, saying ‘institutional racism’ is ‘a perception more than a reality’, and opposed Theresa May’s very own racial disparities audit.

I agree with Dawn Butler, the only review needed is a review into all the past consultations and reviews as well as their failure to implement over 200 prior recommendations. Further prevarication is the last thing we need on such an important and fundamental issue.
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