Labour accuse Boris Johnson of engaging in a 'culture war' in growing row over racial inequalities review

June 16, 2020

Labour have accused the prime minister of engaging in a "culture war", amid a growing row over the government's new commission on racial inequalities.

Boris Johnson has announced the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities following Black Lives Matter protests around the UK in recent weeks.

But the involvement of Downing Street aide Munira Mirza - who has cast doubt on the existence of institutional racism and criticised what she says is the "culture of grievance" among anti-racism campaigners - has provoked criticism.

According to The Guardian, the head of the Number 10 policy unit has been heavily involved in establishing the commission.

The involvement of Ms Mirza, the head of the No 10 policy unit, was condemned by shadow justice secretary David Lammy, who says Ms Mirza's involvement "further undermines" the commission.

Mr Lammy, who led a review into the treatment of BAME (Black Asian and minority ethnic) groups in the justice system for the Conservative government under David Cameron and Theresa May, said: "My review was welcomed by all parties: [Jeremy] Corbyn, Cameron and May.

"But Munira Mirza went out of her way to attack it."

Mr Lammy accused the PM of not listening to BLM campaigners and instead trying to "wage a culture war".

Number 10 defended Ms Mirza's involvement in setting up the commission.

Mr Johnson's spokesman said the commission will be led by an "independent figure" who will be revealed "in due course".

"Munira is the prime minister's head of policy, so you would expect her to be involved in setting this up," he said.

And Home Secretary Priti Patel said she was "one of the most talented people working in government" and had "dedicated years of her life to public service".

"This orchestrated pile-on is deeply unpleasant," Ms Patel added.

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Ms Mirza served as one of Mr Johnson's deputy mayors when he was in City Hall from 2008 to 2016.

She used an article on the Spiked website in 2017 to criticise the Lammy review.

Ms Mirza said the senior Labour MP had implied that BAME people did not trust the justice system because of "institutional bias and discrimination".

She wrote: "Certainly there is a historic legacy here from previous decades, but it is equally possible that the current accusations of institutional racism by lobbyists and activists - a perception more than a reality - is behind the further corrosion of public trust."

And in an article for The Sun newspaper last month, Ms Mirza said: "By appeasing the anti-racism lobby and affirming its culture of grievance, public institutions and business leaders are not making Britain a fairer place but harming the very people they aspire to help."

The PM has defended his commission, following criticism that action needed to be taken now rather than once it has reported back.

Mr Johnson has also been criticised for saying he wanted to end the "sense of" victimisation and discrimination.

"The whole point of having a review is to look at the areas where people feel there's more that needs to be done," the PM said.

"I think what we want to do is learn now very fast what fresh changes we need to make.

"What I feel most strongly is that there are so many positive stories that are not being heard.

"Things really are changing. You're seeing young black kids now doing better in some of the most difficult subjects in school than they were ever before, more going to top universities.

"We need to start telling that story and building up a culture of high expectations, a narrative about success, as well as stamping out the racism and the discrimination that unquestionably exists."

The review will also look at poor educational outcomes for white working class boys, Number 10 said.

It will report directly to the PM and be overseen by Kemi Badenoch, the equalities minister.

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