Has Boris Johnson just played a blinder? News has emerged that the new commission on racial inequalities, which he promised in response to the BLM protests, and which has the distinct whiff of another nail in the coffin of our national culture, might not be all that BLM activists had hoped for. Boris is planning to appoint his old friend and trusted advisor Munira Mirza, currently Director of the Number 10 Policy Unit, as its head.
Mirza’s suitability for the role can be easily judged from the reactions of outrage on the Left. Shadow Justice Secretary David Lammy complained that his own review into inequality in the justice system had been attacked by Mirza, even though Corbyn, Cameron and May had ‘welcomed’ it. Johnson, he continued, was not listening to BLM at all, but ‘trying to wage a culture war’.
Diane Abbott said, ‘A new race equalities commission led by Munira Mirza is dead on arrival. She has never believed in institutional racism.’ And the Institute of Race Relations warned that instead of acknowledging the reality of ‘institutional racism’, Mirzi had spoken of an anti-racist ‘grievance culture’. They added, ‘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.’
It seems that Boris has made an excellent choice.
Munura Mirzi is, in fact, everything BLM activists loathe: she is educated, civilized, articulate, successful, and though nominally ‘BAME’ (her parents came here from Pakistan), completely at ease in this country, and with its culture. Mirza has in the past been highly critical of attempts by government to address racial inequality, describing Theresa May’s ‘race disparity audit’ as an example of how ‘anti-racism is becoming weaponised across the political spectrum’. She incurred the wrath of Labour advisor Dave Hill back in the days when she was Boris’s cultural advisor as Mayor of London. According to The Guardian, he accused them both of ‘bashing cultural relativism’ and promoting ‘a crass, backward-looking view of the arts’. To Hill, Mirza’s call for rejecting cultural relativism and upholding ‘cultural value’ sounded like a return to the ‘old, unchallenged hierarchies’. Johnson had himself condemned ‘mushy-minded cultural relativism’, declaring himself an ‘unashamed cultural elitist’.
Boris’s appointment of Mirzi also sheds light on what he meant in his Telegraph article when he referred to building on the existing success of BAME students and turning this into a ‘universal narrative’. In her 2012 book The Politics of Culture: The Case for Universalism, Mirzi argues that in place of ‘cultural diversity’, ‘identity politics’ and ‘inclusivity’, we should foster ‘a new, critical universalism in contemporary cultural policy’, which recognises that art and culture, in their highest forms, have transcendent universal value. This sounds most promising. Moreover, it has been confirmed that the commission would look at ‘wider inequalities’ such as why working-class white boys are behind others in school. This cannot be what BLM had in mind at all.
Of course, who will sit on the commission (yet to be announced) is another matter. But Trevor Phillips, former chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, might be another excellent choice. He has undergone something of a latter-day conversion in his attitude to the causes of racial inequalities, famously describing multiculturalism as ‘a racket’ and recently being suspended from the Labour Party for ‘alleged Islamophobia’.
It is still a tall order, but we have at least been given a glimmer of hope in these dark days.